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Breaking The Senior Mental Health Stigma Post-Pandemic

The Importance Of Mental Health

Since the 70s, medical advancements have rapidly revolutionized our understanding of physical health, leading to increased life expectancy. However, only more recently has mental health's recognition as an essential component of overall well-being joined the conversation. The World Health Organization now states, "There is no health without mental health," ushering mental health to the forefront of awareness campaigns and research endeavors. It is now difficult to go anywhere without seeing some sort of advertisement about mental health advocacy and care. In fact, it’s probably more likely to see messaging about mental health than preventative cancer care or any other physical health campaign. Why? Well, as C.S. Lewis once said, “The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say 'My tooth is aching' than to say 'My heart is broken'.” The wisdom behind C.S. Lewis's quote becomes even more evident in this context - concealing emotional pain is burdensome, and acknowledging it is essential for healing.

The Ongoing Stigma Associated With Mental Health

Yet, despite the many strides we have taken, stigma has continued to create barriers to mental health support. Especially with older adults, who face unique challenges in relation to their mental well-being. Research shows that over 1.8 million Canadians aged 60 and above live with mental illness, with depression being prevalent. The unfortunate reality is that stigma still persists, isolating older adults and delaying the treatment they need.

The Effects Covid-19 Had On Seniors

However, recent developments have brought significant changes to the conversation around mental health. The global COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped priorities and perceptions. The pandemic has compelled many, including older adults, to recognize the importance of mental well-being and take action. This attitude shift reflects a growing realization that emotional health is integral to overall health. The pandemic's impact on mental health cannot be understated, especially in older adults. Isolation, loss, and the upheaval of routines took a toll on the mental well-being of seniors. As social creatures, the absence of social connections during lockdowns disproportionately affected their emotional state. Not just during the pandemic period, but its effects lingered far after. Research shows that older adults (in addition to other ages) found it difficult to reach out to peers to make plans to spend time together in the months after the lifting of social distancing rules. This issue was particularly seen more in women than men, as men’s social gatherings more often revolve around activities, rather than communication.

More Seniors Are Reaching Out For Mental Health Than Ever!

The pandemic revealed what many organizations who work with older adults already knew. Social isolation negatively impacts a person's mental health. The pandemic acted as a catalyst for change, reflecting a much-needed shift in our collective consciousness and how we think about social isolation and older adults This shift is and was crucial for older adults, who have often been hesitant to seek help due to societal expectations of self-sufficiency and stoicism. The pandemic has shown that vulnerability is a shared experience, transcending age and societal norms.

Our Rapidly Aging Population Calls For Proactive Action Towards Mental Health!

So why then do we keep speaking on the subject if we already see positive changes in people's relationship with their mental health? The world is undergoing rapid aging, with the proportion of individuals over 60 years old projected to double between 2015 and 2050, from 12% to 22%. In this context, the mental health and well-being of older adults become crucial. Approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and above suffer from mental disorders. Despite their vital contributions to society, many older adults are at risk of developing mental and neurological issues often alongside other health concerns like diabetes, hearing loss, and osteoarthritis. As the population ages, the urgency to recognize the unique mental health challenges faced by older adults becomes apparent.

Challenges that are unique to later life, such as declining physical capabilities and ongoing losses, contribute to isolation and psychological distress. Moreover, the link between mental and physical health is undeniable. Older adults with physical conditions like heart disease often experience higher rates of depression. Conversely, untreated depression can negatively impact physical health outcomes.

While the pandemic has prompted many to recognize the importance of emotional well-being, addressing stigma remains a complex challenge that necessitates ongoing education, awareness campaigns, and open discussion.

Tackling these challenges necessitates a multifaceted strategy. Training healthcare professionals in geriatric care, comprehensive management of chronic diseases, and designing age-friendly services are essential. Health promotion strategies focusing on active and healthy aging, community-based mental health care, and early recognition and intervention for mental disorders form integral pillars of support. Encouragingly, according to the American Psychiatric Association, “most people with depression (over 80 percent) respond well to treatment and achieve a complete and lasting recovery.”

It’s estimated that 80% to 90% of older adults living in long-term care have some form of mental disorder, with approximately 50% living with a diagnosis of depression: When depression is preventable and treatable, it is important to not write off older adult mental illness as a normal part of ageing.

Change Is Happening, More Is Needed

While the shift in attitudes towards mental health is promising, stigma and unique stressors still impact older adults disproportionately. With dementia and depression at the forefront, concerted efforts are needed to promote mental well-being among older populations. Adequate training, support systems, and an integrated approach to care are pivotal in ensuring the mental health of older adults is given the attention it deserves. We will continue to share the message of the importance of mental health. Not just so that individuals understand why they should prioritize it, but to continue to advance the conversation in hopes of better integrating mental health care into our healthcare system. We are pleased to see the advancements that have taken place over the years. Including Victoria General Hospital’s Manitoba Blue Cross Mental Health Assessment Unit and Tranquility Trail.

If you are looking for more information on mental health resources, please visit the Canadian Mental Health Association website.


This article is meant to be informational in nature and should not replace the advice of a trained healthcare professional or financial professional. What works for some individuals, might be harmful to others. Consult a professional before making any significant changes.

By: Maor Tsitrin, Marketing & Communications Assistant

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