We talk a lot about staying healthy and active as we get older, but there's more to living a full life than just staying physically fit. For many older adults anxiety and depression are a real issue that makes their day to day lives difficult. Emotional suffering can make chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease worse. They can also lead to suicide, with older adult men the highest risk group. Mental health conditions can often look like physical symptoms when they manifest themselves in older adults. Things like pain, fatigue, nausea, and irritability can all be symptoms of mental health issues.

So here's the good news. Mental health conditions are treatable and no matter how old you are, you benefit from those treatments just as much as anyone else. The first step is simply identifying when mental and emotional health issues become a problem. That could mean someone is pulling away from their friends, they are becoming irritable or having other noticeable changes to their behavior, or they aren't following through on necessary responsibilities both inside and outside their home.  

When you notice these things, it's time to have a conversation, with yourself or your loved one. It simply isn't true that talking about mental health can make it worse, or could put ideas in someone's head that weren't already there. Having a conversation about mental health can create new opportunities for treatment and care. Tell them you have noticed changes and are worried about them and how they are feeling. Remind them that you are there to work with them to solve the issue. 

Then, talk to a doctor. Ask a medical professional specifically about ways to address emotional or mental health concerns and discuss the risks and benefits of each treatment plan. As part of your conversation with your doctor, talk about how mental and emotional health can affect other health conditions. 

Know your options. This is crucial. There are many options for treating different mental and emotional health problems and a professional can help walk you through them. Some of the big things include counseling or therapy, medications, exercise, or finding a new hobby or activity. 

It is important to recognize the stigma surrounding mental health problems and their side effects. Remember that in order to be really healthy, you have to be mentally healthy too. Having mental or emotional distress can have an impact on you physically and can make other health problems worse. The best thing to do is to address the issue before it becomes a major problem. Many people deal with mental health issues at some point in their lives, so it is important to remember that they do not reflect poorly on you or your loved ones. Keeping your suffering to yourself makes it worse. 

You are never alone. Help is always available. Reaching out to someone else is the first step. 

If you or someone you love is suffering and having thoughts of suicide, there is a National Crisis Hotline you can call or text and a professional can help. 

1-800-273-8255   or Text HOME to 741741  

Porter Hills is a senior living resource in West Michigan. 

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