Mental Health Awareness Week Focuses on Older Adults

Bermuda Hospitals Board (BHB) today announces the launch Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) 2013. This year’s theme focuses on mental health and older adults. The week was launched on Monday 7 October at the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute by the Minister for Health and Seniors, the Hon. Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, JP MP. In addition, BHB CEO, Mrs. Venetta Symonds, Chief Operating Officer (MWI), Ms. Patrice Dill, and Deputy Chief of Psychiatry, Dr Anna Neilson-Williams attended the launch and shared remarks.

Ms Dill comments: “Like the rest of the world, Bermuda is seeing an increase in the population of older adults. Globally, the number of people over age 60 is more than 800 million and this figure will increase to over two billion by 2050. In order to accommodate the needs of our aging population, we must be mindful of mental health issues that pertain to older adults. While most seniors continue to lead active, vital and productive lives, some older adults are at increased risk of mental disorders. Addressing these issues is essential, in order to assist older adults in maintaining independence, self-worth and physical health. Taking steps to provide appropriate mental healthcare services for our senior population will vastly improve their quality of life, whether an older adult remains at home or is placed in a care facility. We want older adults and their family members to know that help is available. A dynamic team of mental healthcare professionals here at the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute work closely together to provide support to older adults and their family members. If you or your loved one is experiencing a mental health concern, we urge you to contact us for assistance.”

Dr Neilson comments: “Older adults dealing with mental health challenges often face both the discrimination of ageism and the stigma of mental illness. Bermuda is not unique in this regard, but these damaging attitudes can lead to further barriers when it comes to providing care. MWI team members treat people as individuals, with dignity, and in a culturally sensitive manner. We understand older adults often face isolation and a loss of independence and we want seniors to know it is possible to experience a good quality of life as they age. In fact, during the course of treatment, many older adults discover new things about themselves or develop other interests. If you are an older adult experiencing anxiety or depression, the good news is these disorders are very treatable. The key to maintaining mental and physical well-being as we grow older is preventing illness and intervening early when problems do occur. We encourage older adults to remain active, to spend time with friends and family and to seek care if they have physical or mental health concerns. You do not need to suffer alone or in silence. With an appropriate care plan, many older adults return to their previous level of functioning.”

Events for MHAW include the launch of the MindFrame PhotoVoice exhibit this Friday, 11 October at Bermuda Society of Arts, beginning at 5:00pm. The exhibit provides an insight into the experiences of people using services at MWI through art, photography and creative writing. Organized by MWI Allied Health members, this project provides an opportunity for service users to participate in outpatient and inpatient art groups. Service users also learn the use of digital cameras and go on field trips to practice their photography skills, take images that reflect their unique view of the world and talk about what those pictures mean to them. The exhibit runs through Tuesday, 29 October.

Facts about depression in older adults:

Symptoms
The recognition of depression in seniors is particularly challenging. Since many older adults have physical illnesses and/or do not have a strong social network, healthcare providers, family members, and patients themselves often incorrectly conclude that depression is a normal outgrowth of those problems. Depression is not a normal part of aging. The widely held belief that depression is normal makes this illness more often not diagnosed—and therefore, not treated.

Depression in older adults may last longer than in young people, often includes sleep problems and may increase the risk for physical health problems or death. Depression in older adults is more likely to lead to suicide. The risk of suicide is serious. Elderly white men are at the greatest risk, and those ages 80-84 have a suicide rate more than twice that of the general population.

Causes
There is no one cause for depression and the onset of late-life depression can be attributed to genetic, biological, or neurological factors; life changes; illnesses; or a combination. Some older adults with depression have suffered from this for most of their lives. For others, their experience with depression may not begin until late life. An individual can be 70, 80 or even 90 years of age before he or she first experiences depression. Depression in late life is more common in women, widowed individuals, those who lack a supportive social network, and those with physical health problems.

Depression and physical health
Depression can also occur at the same time as another illness, especially after a bypass operation, hip fracture, or stroke. The mind and the body are not separate—physical illnesses such as heart disease and cancer may bring the onset of depression. The same is true in the reverse—depression impacts an older adult’s physical well-being. When an older adult suffers from depression as well as heart disease or diabetes, the recovery period for the physical illness is longer and the treatment for that physical illness may not be as effective. Late-life depression exaggerates any existing health problems and increases the risk of death.

Stigma
Stigma that society places on depression (and other mental illnesses) can discourage people from getting treatment. Some people are ashamed that they have depression—they feel that it is their fault or that they should be able to help themselves out of their depressed mood. The stigma associated with late-life depression has a chilling impact on individuals seeking treatment and recovering from depression. Only 10 percent of older adults receive treatment for their clinical depression. Depression is not a weakness or a character flaw. Depression is an illness that can be successfully treated.

Helpful suggestions for seniors who may be dealing with depression:

• Talking with those who have had similar experiences and feelings can be very helpful because they will understand how you feel.

• Spend time with people you enjoy and avoid people who are not supportive.

• Pace yourself—do not expect to do everything that you did before you had depression. Set a realistic schedule. Ask a friend or family member to take over some of the things that you need to do for a period of time.

• Think positively and try to avoid blaming yourself or expecting failure. Identify areas of your life that are positive.

• Identify problems in your life and list problems that you think may have triggered the depression. Work out a strategy to deal with the problems. Discuss them with family, friends, and your health care provider. Develop a step-by-step action plan—but plan realistic steps.

• Identify pleasant activities and routines that you enjoyed before you became depressed. Think about those activities as well as those you would like to do. Start to return to that routine. Choose one activity each week from the pleasant activity and routine list.

• Avoid making major life decisions. If you do need to make a major decision that will impact your life, ask a friend or family member for assistance.

• Get exercise and spend time outdoors. Exercise and natural light can be effective natural treatments for depression.

• Eat a healthy diet and limit your intake of sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and salt.

• Be patient—it will take time to get better.

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