May is national Mental Health Awareness month, and it is an important annual effort which serves to benefit millions of people. Initially suggested in 1949 by organizations within the mental health care field, the yearly observation was made official by presidential decree in 2013. At that time, the move to designate a regular Mental Health Awareness month was tied to a proposal by the federal government to increase funding for mental health diagnostic and treatment programs, specifically in light of an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among returning veterans and a rise in mental health concerns among America’s young people in recent years.
Tens of millions of Americans currently struggle with some form of mental illness, such as depression, chronic anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, brain injuries, chemical dependency, and other challenges. In fact, the World Health Organization has stated that depression is the leading cause of disability among developed countries.
In fact, more than 322 million people around the world currently are suffering from some type of depression, with an 18 percent increase in reported cases from 2005 to 2015, according to World Health Organization.
“These new figures are a wake-up call for all countries to rethink their approaches to mental health and to treat it with the urgency that it deserves,” said then-Director General of the World Health Organization Dr. Margaret Chan.
Greater need for mental health awareness
Despite higher numbers about the incidence and severity of various mental health problems in the 21st century, there has not been a corresponding rise in treatment opportunities. It has been estimated that fewer than half of all people with diagnosable mental health issues actually are receiving the support and treatment they need, according to Newsweek. That partly may be due to many people’s reluctance to discuss their situations because of the stigma and negative perceptions often associated with mental illnesses.
That is exactly why organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness support Mental Health Awareness month, in order to help individuals look beyond those attitudes. National Alliance on Mental Illness also has created its “WhyCare?” outreach program to encourage more people – at all stages of life – to seek treatment if they suspect a mental health problem in themselves or a loved one. The “WhyCare?” campaign hopes to promote the importance of proper care for millions of individuals and families affected by debilitating mental illness.
Dealing with ongoing mental health conditions also can lead to related problems, such as suicide, job loss, and substance abuse. Therefore, it is in everybody’s best interests to increase awareness and prevention programs.
Mental health and the elderly
Senior citizens suffer from a number of conditions that often are misdiagnosed as mental illness because the symptoms can be so similar. Dementia — which is frequently tied to a loss of brain cells among aging patients — affects millions of elderly adults, and can manifest itself with significant behavioral changes such as delusions, mood swings, emotional outbursts, and memory problems. It also is common for older adults to experience bouts of depression and extreme anxiety, especially when they are going through periods of social isolation.
Mental illnesses in senior citizens are treatable, but it is essential to start with an accurate diagnosis to ensure appropriate treatment as soon as possible. Even if an elder individual has had good mental health throughout his or her life, mental illness in later years always is a possibility.
If you are concerned about mental illness symptoms, the first step is to have a conversation with a trusted health care professional. In some milder cases, such as occasional mental lapses, the treatment can be very simple.
Include your attorney in the conversation
Mental health challenges among senior citizens – either yourself or your loved ones— also are great reasons to have a comprehensive estate plan. As older people’s cognitive abilities inevitably diminish, it gets more difficult to put their personal affairs in order and make arrangements for their later years. Traditionally, a person’s last will and testament included the phrase “…being of sound mind.”
The experienced elder law attorneys at TuckerAllen specialize in affordable smart solutions for wills, trusts, Power of Attorney documents, and other essential aspects of estate plans, including long-term provisions for special-needs adults.
TuckerAllen also offers complimentary educational webinars, where we explain a range of estate plan options and asset protection programs, all in terms that are easy to understand.