Our beloved Elders and their Mental Health


Mental health issues, regardless of age, remain a taboo subject. 

Despite all the education and disclosure of struggle from those in the public eye, whether film stars, musicians, or politicians, there remains a stigma.  Children, adolescents, and young adults have made the news currently and in the recent past, as we enter a time of epidemic proportions of mental health crises that affect this age group.

Mental health and elders seem to be “in the closet.”

Looking at the full spectrum of life experience and struggle, it seems evident that our aging loved ones would be experiencing some of what our young people are: depression, anxiety, feelings of helplessness, and hopelessness.  Considering the losses that our elders have experienced (loss of parents, siblings, spouses, friends, and maybe even children, combined with physical health decline that causes loss of driving, autonomy, and perhaps even their own home), it only stands to reason that not everyone would have the resiliency to cope well. 

In our practice at Aberdeen, we routinely screen for what may be termed “psychological, emotional, or psychic pain.”  Taking someone’s daily experience of “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  My get up and go, got up and went” or a similar version of the same is not uncommon.  Identification of what may be the problem, putting a name to it, and giving it an identity can be a powerful first step.

What can we do, as family, friends, or neighbors? 


If we notice behaviors, withdrawal, or avoidance of socialization, let it be the red flag that it is, not “this is the way he is now.”  While that may be the case, it might not have to be.  If we check in with “connected others,” we may find that our observations are like what others notice—document what you see and what others confirm. 


After our “data collection,” it’s time to act.  What do we do with this information?  Whom do we tell?  Who will help?  I suggest talking to respected others, friends, and colleagues.  Mental health is not the big secret we think it is.  More families than you can imagine are navigating similar struggles.  Ideally, the Primary Care Physician or Health Care Provider should be a solid place to start.

If, after your discussion, you are not offered any suggestions for treatment, sadly, you may have to bark up another tree.  Local Councils on Aging and Senior Centers are excellent sources of support and a good referral center. Do a little research on your own.  I would suggest reputable sites (Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins) and watch for websites offering promises that seem too good to be true (they are). 


It should be easier to get help than it is.  That is a “truism” across the spectrum, regardless of age or problem.  At this point, advocacy is more important and required than ever before.  The “how” is the tricky part.  We get more with honey than we do with vinegar, for sure.  Asking for help shouldn’t be so hard…

Sometimes the key is not taking “no” for an answer.

Not taking “no,” may mean not accepting the answer that “this is the way it is” until we have tried many interventions.  True, some problems cannot be solved.  It’s also true that some elders would prefer to stay as they are (unhappy, depressed, withdrawn) and should be given the right to choose. 

My position with families in this situation is to TRY.  Try something.  Reach out, talk to your respected others, and gather opinions across your network: clergy, medical personnel, elder care professionals, etc.

If this were physical pain, we would insist on a remedy.  We would not let our loved ones suffer.  Why would we handle mental health any differently?  They may indeed be suffering from past trauma, loneliness, multiple losses, lack of purpose, loss of independence, home, or autonomy.

They deserve our help.

mental health, taboo, stigma, elders