Mental Health Issue Facing Those Over 55

. January 4, 2016.

by Stephen Roberts, PhD

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 20% of people 55 and older have some type of mental health issue. The most common conditions include anxiety, cognitive impairment and depression.


In a review of literature concerning depression, Amy Fiske and her colleagues from West Virginia University revealed that up to 5% of adults 65 and older have a major depressive disorder. The rate of major depression for medical outpatients is 5-10%, medical inpatients 10-12% and patients in long term care facilities 14-42%.

Fifteen percent of older adults have significant symptoms of depression despite note having a major depressive disorder.


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of depression include:

• Too little or too much sleep

• Over or under eating

• Pains, headaches or digestive problems

• Sadness or emptiness

• No interest in favorite activities

• Suicidal thoughts, delusions,

• Poor memory

• Concerns about pain        


Causes of depression include the following:  death of a spouse, loneliness, decreased mobility, decreased sense of purpose and loss of identity, fears of death and financial shortfalls, and illnesses such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as a family history of depression and negative life experiences .

According to the National Institutes of Health, depression can also be caused by physical changes  such as inflammation and hardening of blood vessels in older individuals, which leads to less blood flow to the brain, impairing the ability of different segments of the brain to communicate, leading to “vascular depression.”

What to do when feeling depressed?

Professional help in the form of therapy and medication may be indicated. If professional help is not accessible or desired there are other options to consider.

Joan Lawrence, a therapist at the Assessment & Family Therapy Center of Northwest Ohio, says that people should eat well, exercise and get adequate sleep to try to cope with depression .  She also suggests looking at life as a glass half full rather than half empty.  Changing one’s perception of events and life circumstances can have a very positive impact.

The Cleveland Clinic suggests engaging in enjoyable activities and encouraging people to understand and support you as you work through your depression.  Do not feel that you have to be responsible for everything. This rigid style generates bad feelings about yourself and is very likely to be inaccurate.  Moving away from unhealthy relationships and situations should be considered.

Karen L. Swartz, M.D., Director of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center is a strong believer in exercise to cope with depression – as little as 10 minutes several times a week can be helpful. Intense exercise may not be helpful, and can actually cause a drop in mood. If you are competitive you might want to avoid activities that bring out that part of your personality. Consider yoga and tai chi as forms of movement  that can increase your energy and rest your mind.

Online resources

Finally, Martin Nowak a therapist at the Zepf Center recommends the following websites if you need further information: and


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