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July 26, 2018

How Older Adults can Overcome the Stigma of Mental Illness

Though you may not think about it, mental health is important through all stages of life. And though it may not seem like it, many older adults—the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 15 percent of adults over age 60—suffer from a mental disorder.

Older adults are at risk for developing mental problems—like generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD—because not only do you deal with common life stressors your younger counterparts face, you also may have to deal with the stressors that come later in life. These stressors can include things like the death of loved ones, loss of mobility, chronic health conditions or a drop in socioeconomic status due to retirement. 

Unfortunately, most mental health conditions are under-identified by healthcare professionals and older adults. Not only that, if you have a mental health condition, you are less likely to receive proper treatment because of the stigma surrounding mental health, the WHO reports.

Thankfully, there are ways to overcome the stigma of mental illness. Here is what you need to know.

Stigmas are common: That’s partially because many people view mental health conditions as threatening or uncomfortable. Sometimes people view those with mental health conditions, whether it’s anxiety or schizophrenia, as dangerous. According to one study done in the UK, participants stated they viewed people with mental health problems as hard to talk to.

Stigmas can make you feel worse: According to the Mayo Clinic, the effects of stigmas can worsen your condition. You may be reluctant to seek treatment or not receive support from family or friends, if they have stigmas. Stigmas can also lead you to judge yourself, or you may feel bullied, harassed or believe that you can never improve your situation.

How Older Adults can Overcome the Stigma of Mental Illness

Get treatment: Despite what you may tell yourself or what others may tell you, treatment is available for mental health issues. Treatment can help you feel better, and it can also identify what kind of problems you’re dealing with. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the average delay between when mental health symptoms begin and treatment occurs is 8-10 years.

Talk to people: While you may want to isolate yourself if you have a mental illness, talking about it with others can help you feel better. Speak to those you trust or find a support group in your area.

Don’t equate yourself with your condition: You are not a schizophrenic, you’re not a depressed person. You have schizophrenia or depression.

Attend a support group: Support groups can be an excellent way to meet others with your condition. They can also help educate you and your family on your mental illness.

If you’re looking for ways to get help, the Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services and Ohio chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness have resources.


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