Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, including as we age.
Many older adults are at risk for mental health problems. But this does not mean that mental health problems are a normal part of aging. Studies show that most older adults feel satisfied with their lives, even though they may have more illnesses or physical problems.
Sometimes, however, important life changes can make you feel uneasy, stressed, and sad. These changes could include the death of a loved one, retirement, or dealing with a serious illness. Many older adults will eventually adjust to the changes. But some people will have more trouble adjusting. This can put them at risk for mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.
It's important to recognize and treat mental disorders in older adults. These disorders don't just cause mental suffering. They can also make it harder for you to manage other health problems. This is especially true if those health problems are chronic.
Some of the warning signs of mental disorders in older adults include
- Changes in mood or energy level
- A change in your eating or sleeping habits
- Withdrawing from the people and activities you enjoy
- Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, angry, upset, worried, or scared
- Feeling numb or like nothing matters
- Having unexplained aches and pains
- Feeling sadness or hopelessness
- Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
- Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
- Having thoughts and memories that you can't get out of your head
- Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
- Thinking of harming yourself or others
If you think that you may have a mental health problem, get help. Talk therapy and/or medicines can treat mental disorders. If you don't know where to start, contact your primary care provider.
Diagnosis and Tests
- 10 Warning Signs Your Older Family Member May Need Help (Administration for Community Living) - PDF
Treatments and Therapies
- Mental Health Medications (National Institute of Mental Health)
- Anxiety (AGS Foundation for Health in Aging)
- Coping with Mood Changes Later in Life (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance)
- Depression is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Older Adults and Depression (National Institute of Mental Health) Also in Spanish
- Preventing Suicide in Older Adults (Mental Health America)
Statistics and Research
- Mental Health of Older Adults (World Health Organization) Also in Spanish
- Social Isolation, Loneliness in Older People Pose Health Risks (National Institute on Aging)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
Find an Expert
- Find a Geriatric Psychiatrist (American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry)