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Stigma surrounding mental health care impacts older adults

Posted at 5:45 AM, Apr 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-20 08:45:31-04

PHOENIX — According to the National Council on Aging, the stigma surrounding mental health care is one of the reasons older adults are less likely to receive treatment.

Lack of access to providers and the misconception that certain conditions are a normal part of aging may also play a role. 

Wendy Cohen, with the nonprofit Duet, is working to break that stigma. She often volunteers her time with seniors who are no longer able to drive.

"They're lonely and need companionship," she said.

Cohen has heard first-hand the reservations some have about seeking help.

"They look at it as potentially another thing in their life they see declining with their physical health. So, they're hesitant to come forward and seek help with mental health issues they may be experiencing," Cohen said. "We have heard on a few occasions, 'We just don't talk about that in my family or we just kind of sweep it under the rug.'"

According to the American Psychological Association, one in four adults 65 years and older experiences a mental health problem like depression or anxiety. The National Council on Aging says men aged 85 and older have a suicide rate that is about four times higher than any other age.

Shane Watson, spokesperson for the organization notMYkid, says the new generation has become more comfortable with talking about their challenges.

"With each generation, I feel we get a little more open. We get a little more brave," Watson said. "I think we recognize the value of normalizing these conversations and the damage that not talking about them causes."

Cohen recommends reaching out to your loved ones and not being afraid to guide them to someone who can assist.

"Because they likely could use a little support, a little bit of help, a little bit of friendship," Cohen said.

The Area Agency on Aging has a 24-hour senior help line. You can call 602-264-4357 (HELP) or click here.