The importance of being your own mental health advocate

According to the American Psychological Association, 20% of people over 55 suffer from some type of mental disorder. Yet less than 3% of all older adults see a mental health professional. One reason for this is that  seniors’ physical health is priortized. But as health care professionals increasingly take a holitsic approach to mental health physical health, many providers are shifting from problem-based care to goal-oriented care.

Problem-based care tackles health problems as they they arise. This approach focuses on immediate solutions to issues like injuries or illness. Goal-oriented care looks at a variety of health factors, including mental health and physical welness to improve quality of life.

“Studies have shown that seniors are much more likely to be asked about their physical health than their mental health,” Randy Robinson, MD, Co-Founder and CMO of R-Health said. “Ultimately, that’s just not a well-rounded treatment plan for health. It’s important that we change the narrative and stigma around senior mental health in order to provide a better, more encompassing service. And that starts with seniors themselves.”

Access to mental health care requires that patients are open and willing to take the steps to combat their disease. Speaking up and reporting feelings of anxiety and depression is crucial.

Common mental health issues in seniors

Here are some of the leading mental health issues diagnosed in adults 65+.

Depression

The APA suggests that as many as 20% of older adults and 37% of nursing home residents suffer from depression. Warning signs for depression in seniors include:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Isolation
  • Less communication
  • Mood swings

These symptoms can sometimes be mistaken for other medical issues, making it hard to recognize (such as losing a loved one or moving into a nursing home for the first time). It's important not to overlook, or downplay these symptoms.

Alzheimer’s and dementia

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia for older adults, impacting over 12 million people worldwide.

Although there aren’t any cures, assessing one’s mental health during these stages can really help soften the impact of the disease and help maintain mental health for seniors.

Here are some early signs of Alzheimer’s to look for:

• Memory loss.
• Difficulty planning or solving problems.
• Difficulty doing familiar tasks.
• Being confused about time or place.
• Problems speaking or writing.
• Misplacing items.
• Lack of intrest in socializing.

Substance abuse

According to the APA, 17% of older adults misuse or abuse alcohol and medications. Alcohol abuse is one of the leading causes of death for older adults in America. Alcohol abuse can lead to malnutrition, depression, and a decline in overall function.

How to be proactive in your mental health

Ageism is the idea held by seniors, their caretakers, and even some service providers, that mental health issues are normal as we age,” Robinson said. “This idea is antiquated and completely false. If only 20% of older adults have mental health issues, that means 80% are living healthy lives. Seniors do not have to accept mental deterioration as just part of the aging process.


It is crucial to be proactive in your mental health and take steps to ensure a better quality of life. You can do this by first assessing your personal risk for mental health. Many signs of mental illness can be detected if you know where to look.

Risk factors for mental health issues in seniors include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Family history of substance abuse/depression
  • Sleep irregularity
  • Medicare side effects
  • Stressful life events
  • Social isolation

Ultimately, the worst thing you can do if you’re at risk for mental illness is nothing. Here are a few of the ways you can be proactive in your mental health:

  1. Pay attention to your feelings
  2. Spend time with loved ones
  3. Go outside
  4. Get enough sleep
  5. Complete wellness checks
  6. Be honest with yourself

Part of being your own mental health advocate starts with being honest with yourself and your loved ones. It’s nearly impossible to fix a problem without first addressing it. There are solutions and treatments available — but you first must seek them out.

Does Medicare cover mental illness?

Medicare Part A

If you are hospitalized due to your mental health, Part A will cover your room, meals, nursing care, and more related to your care. It will also cover medications and therapy needed while at the hospital.

Medicare Part B

If you have to get services from a doctor either in or outside a hospital, Part B will cover it. This includes things such as psychiatry/psychology and social work.

Part B also covers one depression screening per year, to help you stay on top of your mental health. You also may be a candidate for covered psychotherapy or family counseling.

Reminder: Medicare only covers 80% of your costs. You will still be left with 20% out-of-pocket. You can get a Medicare Supplement plan to help cover that additional 20%.

Medicare Part D

If you need prescription drugs to treat your condition, your Part D plan may cover it. You will have to read your formulary to see if your plan covers your prescription medications for your mental health condition.

If your prescriber says you need a certain drug that your plan doesn’t cover, you have the right to ask for a coverage determination (or appeal). You will have to contact your plan for this and visit Medicare.gov/appeals

There are a variety of solutions at your disposal. Don’t let your mental health be a last priority — you are your best mental health advocate. By starting now, you can stay on top of your mental health and be aware of changes as they occur.

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