When Mental Illness Strikes the Elderly

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More than 19 million Americans struggle with depression every day, but for the elderly mental illness is often misdiagnosed, overlooked, and deemed “part of the aging process.” But elderly depression and mental illness is a serious and debilitating condition. Subtle and often difficult to immediately diagnose, depression and mental illness trap the victim within an invisible prison: inhibiting the faculties for lucid thought, healthy feelings, social relationships, and daily tasks. Because it frequently occurs in conjunction with other medical conditions, the symptoms and telltale signs of elderly depression frequently go unnoticed by healthcare practitioners. And yet, depression affects more than 6.5 million Americans over the age of 65.

Clinical depression, often stigmatized as untreatable and contrived, has much greater consequences than simple emotional unhappiness. Depressed individuals over the age of 65 are more likely to commit suicide than any other age group in America. And yet, symptoms and indications of depression are frequently overlooked: 20% of suicide victims see a doctor the day they die, 40% the week they die, and 70% the month they die.

Symptoms of elderly mental illness and depression vary and often overlap, but confusion, memory problems, insomnia, delusions, hallucinations, and social withdrawal are common indicators. The causes for elderly mental illness and depression are numerous and include biological predisposition, chemical and hormonal shifts that accompany aging, and life circumstances such as familial deaths. Diet, sleep, exercise, friendships, and meaningful activities can also prevent the onset of and aid in the recovery from mental illness and depression. To learn more about the causes and symptoms of elderly depression, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

While treatments vary, medication, psychotherapy, and psychosocial support groups can effectively treat 80% of mental illness patients. And yet, most elderly Americans never receive the proper diagnosis or effective treatment. The NAMI, along with TWLOHA and IAMalive, are working hard to establish resources for those suffering under the weight of mental illness and are actively involved in connecting individuals with the help they need.

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