The importance of being your own mental health advocate

According to the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry, 20% of people over 55 suffer from some type of mental health concern. As health care professionals increasingly take a holistic approach to health, mental health should be as prioritized as physical health.

That's why the Mental Health Foundation started National Mental Health Awareness Week. Celebrated in mid-May in the U.S., this time is dedicated to reducing the stigma around mental health and encourage people to open up and ask for help.

Common mental health issues in seniors

Here are some of the leading mental health issues diagnosed in adults over 50, according to the Healthy Aging Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Anxiety

Anxiety (along with depression) is one of the most prevalent mental health problems among older adults. But it is also the most underestimated, because older adults are less likely to report mental health symptoms.

They instead focus on physical complaints, according to the CDC. Some of these include:

  • Chronic medical conditions
  • Poor sleep
  • Alcohol or medication abuse
  • Overall feelings of poor health

A simple mental health screening can help you determine if anxiety is a factor in your overall health. While not a diagnosis, it can help you recognize the risk factors and symptoms, which will encourage you to seek treatment.

Cognitive Impairment

According to the World Health Organization, the total number of people with dementia is project to reach 82 million by 2030. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia for older adults, impacting over 5.8 million people in the U.S. today. According to the CDC, this number doubles every 5 years beyond age 65.

By recognizing Alzheimer's disease early, you can give yourself and your family more opportunities to consider financial planning, develop your preferred directives, and anticipate care needs. That's why it's important to be open and honest about your mental health. If you notice any warning signs, be sure to speak to your doctor sooner rather than later. It may end up being just a vitamin deficiency or side effect from a medication.

Mood Disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder)

Depression is the most prevalent mental health problem for older adults, and older men have the highest suicide rate of any age group, according to the CDC. And adults 65+ were more likely to report they never receive social and emotional support.

The good news is, depression can be easily treated and treatment is often successful. But it requires people to be open and honest about their feelings, especially to others. Part of being your own mental health advocate starts there. There are solutions and treatments available — but you first must seek them out.

How to be proactive in your mental health

Being your own mental health advocate will help you identify and treat these common problems earlier. But you don't have to wait until symptoms or feelings appear to take an active approach to mental health.

There are ways you can stave off the negative feelings and thoughts by leading a healthy lifestyle. Some ideas include:

  1. Going outside
  2. Spending time with loved ones
  3. Paying attention to your feelings
  4. Exercising
  5. Eating well
  6. Meditating/Reflecting on your day
  7. Practicing good sleep habits
  8. Completing wellness checks & mental health screenings

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 approximately 80% of your health care costs. The other 20% will come 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 the Medicare website here.

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!

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/mental_health.pdf https://onlinedegrees.unr.edu/online-master-of-social-work/aging-population-and-mental-health-statistics-resources-and-ways-to-help/ https://www.cdc.gov/aging/aginginfo/alzheimers.htm#:~:text=In 2020%2C as many as,were living with Alzheimer's disease.&text=Younger people may get Alzheimer's,14 million people by 2060.

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