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How Do You Talk to Seniors About Mental Health?

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Mental health is an extremely important topic. It’s becoming much easier to talk about every day, but it hasn’t always been an openly-discussed topic. 

Many seniors, even though they may be struggling with mental health themselves, may find it complicated to discuss mental health with others. But whether they live in an assisted living community, a memory care community, or at home, their mental health is just as important as everyone else. But how do you talk to seniors about mental health?

It helps to educate yourself first and know the signs that a person is struggling. Then, begin the conversation by showing your patience and your willingness to understand their thoughts. Listen while they speak, and let them take the time to express things in their own way.

It’s important to provide your loved one with a safe environment where they can freely discuss their thoughts and feelings.

Educate Yourself & Know the Signs

Mental health is a complex topic, and it can affect every person differently. When speaking about mental health to seniors, it can be beneficial to think about the most common ways mental health affects them.

More than 20% of seniors experience some form of mental health problem in their later years. This can often lead to loneliness, isolation, and depression.

It’s important to learn how to recognize the signs that a senior may be struggling with their mental health so you can know where to begin.

Begin with Mutual Understanding

Once you know what to look for, it’s time to open up the discussion. Approach this topic with compassion, empathy, and understanding—and make sure that you keep in mind where they’re coming from.

It’s important to remember that many seniors grew up in a time when mental health issues were heavily stigmatized, undiscussed, or even completely disregarded. This may lead to some older adults being significantly more reserved in discussing their emotions.

Try creating a safe, comfortable, and non-judgmental environment where they can feel comfortable discussing their thoughts. However, if it takes some time for them to open up, don’t be discouraged. Try to stay positive, and relate where you can. Mental health can be a difficult topic for some people to talk about, so it may not be a quick process.

Explain the Similarities Between Mental & Physical Health

If your loved one isn’t seeing the importance of their mental health initially, it may help to draw parallels to physical health. 

For example, when a person breaks a bone, they’re never told to just ignore it and wait for it to go away. A doctor isn’t going to tell them to just hold out until it’s back to normal. They have a broken bone, and without proper attention, the bone’s going to stay damaged—and likely cause more damage rather than heal.

Mental health is the same way. When a person is experiencing a mental health problem, they need the proper attention and support to heal. Just like a broken bone, mental health problems don’t just go away on their own. While some symptoms may not be as visible as a broken arm, they can be just as disruptive to a person’s life.

Many people seem to think that because you can’t physically see that a person is hurting, they must be okay. It’s important to draw parallels and create comparisons where you can to stress how important mental health really is.

Prioritize Open Communication

When you’re discussing mental health with seniors, open communication is crucial. They will likely have many questions, and it’s important you take time to answer them. Seniors may find themselves more comfortable talking about other aspects of their health instead of their emotions, so now that you’ve drawn a comparison they can use, they may be more willing to discuss.

Show genuine interest in what they’re saying. It can be helpful to share your own experiences and your own emotions. Vulnerability can be useful to help promote trust, and once you’ve opened up, you may find that they’re more willing to share their own thoughts. However, it’s important to avoid trying to give advice or offer solutions. Instead, let them freely express their emotions.

It can be particularly beneficial to practice active listening while they’re sharing their own thoughts. Be present in the conversation and avoid interrupting. It can also help to avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions about what they’re saying—instead, let them express their emotions in their own time, in their own way.

It may take time for your loved one to be willing to open up to you. There may be a generational gap between what some people consider acceptable or appropriate to discuss, so avoid rushing them.

Once you’ve shown that it’s a safe environment where they can express themselves without being judged, it’s much more likely that they’ll participate in the discussion!

A senior man with a cane smiles and laughs while sitting outside with a nurse and other seniors.

How All American Senior Living Can Help

Mental health is a complex and complicated topic, and it’s never too late to learn more about it. Try finding a list of local resources that can help provide your loved one with the support they deserve.At All American Senior Living in Warwick, we know how important mental health is—especially for seniors. We want each and every one of our residents to know that we’re here to support them in their mental health journey, and we take pride in helping educate our residents on the importance of mental health. Schedule a tour with us today to experience our community for yourself.

Written by kaplan

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