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Talking About Mental Health: 9 Tips For Older Adults

Written by 
Molly Burford

Article at a glance

  • While it is normal to feel anxious or sad from time to time, constantly feeling anxious and depressed could be a sign of mental health troubles.

  • Some people may feel uncomfortable talking about mental health but it is still very important to do so in order to receive proper treatment as well as lessen the stigma surrounding mental health and illness.

  • Some older adults can be susceptible to developing mental health problems due to life changes.

  • Sharing your own experiences is important to help other people feel comfortable talking about mental health.

Mental health matters, and it is just as important as one’s physical health. However, many people do not feel comfortable opening up about mental health, especially if they are experiencing a mental health problem. Not only are mental health problems vulnerable to discuss, but mental health and associated issues are also still stigmatized in our society. 

Despite these difficulties, it is still imperative to talk about mental health. Mental health issues can impact anyone, from young adults to children to older adults, which is why getting the ball rolling and discussing mental health is important.

This article will discuss mental health in regards to older adults specifically, including warning signs of mental health troubles, types of mental illness, and getting help and support for any mental health problems someone may be having, and more.

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health encompasses one’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health plays a fundamental role in one’s behavior, decision-making, thinking processes, and feelings. Mental health is important because it impacts almost every facet of daily life.

Why Mental Health Is Important For Older Adults

While mental health is important for everyone, older adults are vulnerable to developing mental health issues due to life changes such as developing a chronic condition or losing a loved one. These life changes can lead to feelings of grief, social isolation, and loneliness. 

Signs Of Potential Mental Health Issues

There are a number of signs that someone may be having trouble with their mental health including: 

  • Changes in mood, appetite, and energy

  • Mental numbness or difficulty experiencing positive emotions

  • Altered sleeping patterns such as sleeping too much or sleeping too little

  • Anxiety, worry, and stress

  • Anger and irritability

  • Frequent headaches

  • Digestive problems or stomach pain 

  • Misusing substances

  • Sadness or feelings of hopelessness

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Risky behavior (speeding, reckless driving, irresponsible spending, etc.) 

  • Obsessive thinking

Note: If you are having suicidal thoughts, visit your local emergency room immediately, call 911, or call or text the Suicide & Crisis hotline at 988. You are not alone.

Causes Of Mental Health Struggles

There may be a number of reasons someone is having problems with their mental health. Some of these reasons include stress, physical health ailments, mental illness, grief, and life changes.

Types Of Mental Illness

There are various mental health struggles one can develop ranging from ongoing stress or anxiety to certain disorders such as bipolar disorder or depression. It’s important to speak with your doctor about your thoughts, emotions, and behavior patterns so they can accurately diagnose what you may be battling.

Some examples of mental illnesses include: 

  • Depression: Depression is a common group of mental health disorders that can impact someone’s mood in a negative way. Examples of types of depression include bipolar I, bipolar II, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and major depressive disorder (MDD).

  • Anxiety: Anxiety is a common group of mental health disorders marked by persistent and disproportionate worry and fear. Examples of types of anxiety include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, specific phobias, and more.

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): OCD is a type of mental illness marked by excessive thoughts (obsessive) that lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions).

  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD): BPD is a type of emotional regulation disorder marked by unstable personal relationships, low self esteem, chronic emptiness, and more. 

  • Attention deficit disorder (ADD): Attention deficit disorder is a chronic mental health disorder that impacts one’s ability to pay attention. There is an inattentive form of ADD and hyperactive form, referred to as ADHD.

  • Eating disorders: Eating disorders are a type of mental health condition characterized by disruptive and harmful eating behaviors. Examples of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia, orthorexia, and binge eating disorder. 

  • Sundowning: A common condition in elderly adults, sundowning refers to late-day (late afternoon to night time) confusion. Sundowning can lead to behavioral changes such as anxiety, agitation, ignoring directions, pacing, and wandering. Sundowning usually occurs in dementia patients. 

How To Take Care Of Your Mental Health

Just as you would take care of your body and physical needs, your mental health requires maintenance and nurturing as well. Below are some different ways to take care of your mental health.

Exercise Regularly

Regular physical activity does more than just improve physical health; it also positively impacts mental and emotional wellbeing as well. Aim for 30 minutes daily. Exercise can be as simple as a walk outside. Bring a friend or family member with you for extra socialization. 

Join A Support Group

A support group can help you feel less alone as well as provide guidance and support. Check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness to find a support group near you.

See A Therapist

A therapist can help you cope with life changes, mental health struggles, relationship troubles, and more. Use this tool from Psychology Today to find a therapist near you. 

Prioritize Sleep

Getting quality sleep is important for mental health. For adults age 65 and older, seven to eight hours of sleep is recommended per night. For advice on how to sleep better, check out this resource.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

Stress is a major trigger for mental health troubles, which is why managing stressful situations is imperative. Relaxation techniques can be very helpful for doing this. Some examples of relaxation strategies include breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, and more.

Stay Connected to Loved Ones 

Staying connected to loved ones is vital for fostering good mental health. Telling people you are having a tough time gives them the opportunity to offer emotional support and provide a safe place to be vulnerable. 

Set Boundaries

Boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships with ourselves and others. Our relationships play a critical role in our overall wellness. Boundaries are an important component because it keeps us safe as well as teaches others to care for us, improving our overall mental health. 

When To Seek Professional Help And Treatment

It is important to see a mental health professional if symptoms have lasted two weeks or more. Major warning signs include: 

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Appetite changes that have led to unwanted weight changes 

  • Trouble getting out of bed in the morning

  • Lack of focus

  • A loss of interest in things you usually enjoy

  • Symptoms that interfere with daily responsibilities and tasks

Note: You do not have to wait until your symptoms have become overwhelming in order to seek help. Talk to your doctor or another healthcare professional about your mental health and see what they recommend.

Why Is Mental Health Hard To Talk About?

Mental health can be a difficult subject for people to approach for a number of reasons, but mainly due to stigma. Mental health stigma involves negative and judgmental attitudes about those who struggle with mental health issues and illness. Because of this, many people feel hesitant to reach out and admit they’re hurting.

9 Tips For Talking About Mental Health

Talking With A Healthcare Provider

  • Be specific about your experiences. Describe your experience with the utmost clarity including when your symptoms started, how severe they are, and how often they occur. 

  • Prepare for your visit. If you scheduled an appointment, come prepared with a list of questions and concerns to ask your provider. This can help you feel more comfortable and in control of your appointment. 

  • Bring a loved one. Asking a loved one to join you in coming to your appointment can give you the extra support you need and deserve.

Note: For more advice on how to talk about mental health with your healthcare provider, visit this resource.

Talking With a Loved One 

  • Be honest. Don’t feel ashamed for what you’re going through. Be open and honest with your loved ones about what you’re experiencing.

  • Talk in person if you’re comfortable. If doing so feels too uncomfortable, writing a letter or sending a text can be great ways to open the conversation.

Reaching Out to Someone You’re Concerned For

  • Be present. Remove all distractions and be present in the discussion. Make eye contact if they feel okay with you doing so. 

  • Show that you’re engaged by asking questions. Let your loved one know you want to understand what they’re going through and that you are there to support them.

  • Ask how you can be helpful. Ask your loved one to be specific about actionable ways you can help them through their tough time.

  • Be compassionate. Remember, mental health can be hard to discuss for someone who is struggling with their own. Practice empathy and keep in mind that this is not their choice.

Note: For more advice on addressing someone’s mental health because you’re concerned about them , visit this source.

Mental Health Resources

There are many mental health resources available that can help yourself, a family member, a friend, or someone else you may be worried about. Some resources include:

To find a therapist in your area, visit:

For immediate assistance, call, text, or visit:


What are the consequences of not addressing mental health issues?

Consequences of not addressing mental health issues are manifold and can include unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, poor quality of life, and suicide.

What should you not say when talking about mental health?

When discussing mental health, it is crucial to remember that language matters. Being mindful of the way we talk about mental health and associated problems can help lessen the stigma and make people feel more comfortable talking about their own experiences. For example, avoid describing a person according to their diagnosis or behavior. Instead, use language like “They are a person living with depression.” As well, avoid using words such as “suffer” or “victim of.”

What are the differences between mental health and behavioral health?

The main difference between behavioral health and mental health is that behavioral health is considered a “blanket term” that includes mental health within its umbrella because it looks into how a person’s daily actions can affect their mental state. That said, mental health does not include behavioral health and solely involves examining one’s mental state. Learn more at this resource.

Talking About Mental Health

Ways to talk about mental health with the people you love.

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