Discussions about mental health are no longer taboo like they were a few decades ago, but addressing the issue remains difficult for most families. Relatives may be anxious about offending their loved ones, while others are afraid of overstepping their bounds. Sometimes, family dynamics cause siblings, children, or grandchildren to have differences of opinion when it comes to making mental health decisions; especially those affecting a loved one’s finances.
The World Health Organization estimates that 15% of adults over the age of 60 suffer from mental illness, including: anxiety, bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress, and substance abuse issues. These disorders require the skill and attention of a primary care physician and a psychiatrist, in conjunction with a behavioral health specialist to develop a comprehensive care plan.
However, an even higher number of seniors suffer from milder mental health issues that affect their daily quality of life. The Association of Mature American Citizens, AMAC, recommends that families, caregivers, and friends be proactive in addressing current and future mental health concerns in order to develop a beneficial plan of action for all involved.
First, it is important to recognize that variations in the mental health status of a loved one may be attributed to a recent lifestyle change. The death of a loved one, a close friend, or a beloved pet, can cause depression, and bring a change in personality, outlook, or appearance. The loss of a job or a move can also affect the mental health of anyone who feels that they have lost control of their own destiny. Even changes that are expected and anticipated, such as retirement, may cause unanticipated mental health issues. Ask your health care provider, local senior center, or your church for referrals to counselors who can help families navigate change. People who are coping with a life change may find it helpful to connect with others who are going through similar situations.
Many families find that once the mental health discussion has begun, the tension and anxiety levels decrease for all involved. As people identify specific concerns about a loved one’s mental health, they can work together to come up with a plan of action. For instance, if your loved one requires help with remembering when to take their prescription drugs, you can work out a medication management plan that works for all involved. The side effects of medication can mimic mental health issues, so it is important to have the input of your entire health care team.
AMAC reminds caregivers that the care of someone with a mental disorder can be emotionally taxing and recommends that if your loved one is hesitant about the idea of seeking treatment, it often helps if the family rallies together to offer support. The initial family discussion often ends with an agreement to seek additional medical or mental health advice, review medical powers of attorney, or seek additional resources to ensure the best quality of life for your loved one.