Senior woman is holding yellow awareness ribbon in front of white background. Some issues for what the yellow awareness ribbon stands for are Bone Cancer,Adoptive Parents,Obesity,Missing Children,Missing Persons,Refugees Welcome,Prisoners of War and Suicide Prevention
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Social isolation, impaired mobility and high costs for care are among the leading causes of depression and suicide among older adults. Unfortunately, many seniors lack the resources to address these issues, according to an academic article published Monday in HealthAffairs.

“Access to needed mental health care must improve,” the researchers wrote. “Too many older adults are unsupported in the current behavioral health landscape.”

As the number of adults over 65 continues to grow, suicide rates among older adults have also been rising, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Between 2008 and 2017, the share of suicide-related emergency department visits among adults 65 years and older more than doubled. These older adults face age-related stressors that can negatively affect mental health, such as declining physical health, reduced mental sharpness, or the loss of friends or loved ones, which can heighten the risk of suicide. 

Meanwhile, seniors often face unique challenges that can prevent them from accessing services that address mental health stressors.

“Older adults who can potentially benefit from care face a variety of potential difficulties in gaining access to mental health treatment, regardless of having a diagnosable illness,” the researchers wrote. “Barriers to care include greater exposure to costs, the limited supply of clinicians with expertise in treating older adults with mental illnesses, and frequent isolation.”

Many of these problems can create a vicious cycle, the researchers noted. Financial insecurity is a common age-related mental health stressor, but expensive treatment can exacerbate its effect. Loneliness and social isolation, also common among older adults, can have an impact on seniors’ physical health. Physical impairment, in turn, is another stressor that can contribute to heightened risk of suicide, according to the researchers.

To help seniors manage these challenges, stakeholders in both the private and public spheres have brought potential remedies to the table. As an example, some Medicare Advantage plans offer companionship or caregiver support for isolated seniors, while traditional Medicare offers wellness checks that give clinicians an opportunity to identify and address mental health-related concerns.