Older Adults and Mental Health
Why is it important to take care of our mental health as we age?
As people age, they may experience certain life changes that impact their mental health, such as coping with a serious illness or losing a loved one. Although many people will adjust to these life changes, some may experience feelings of grief, social isolation, or loneliness. When these feelings persist, they can lead to mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety.
Mental health is important at every stage of life. Effective treatment options are available to help older adults manage their mental health and improve their quality of life. Recognizing the signs and seeing a health care provider are the first steps to getting treatment.
What are symptoms of mental disorders in older adults?
- Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite
- Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
- Increased worry or feeling stressed
- Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
- Ongoing headaches, digestive issues, or pain
- Misuse of alcohol or drugs
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts
- Engaging in high-risk activities
- Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
- Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life
- Engaging in thinking or behavior that is concerning to others
- Seeing, hearing, and feeling things that other people do not see, hear, or feel
Help is available: If you are unsure where to go for help, ask a health care provider or visit NIMH's Help for Mental Illnesses webpage. Communicating well with your health care provider can improve your care and help you come up with a treatment plan that works for you. Read about tips to help prepare and get the most out of your visit. For additional resources, including questions to ask your health care provider, visit the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality .
- 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline : The Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the United States. Call or text 988 to connect with a trained crisis counselor. Support is also available via live chat . Para ayuda en español, llame al 988.
- Veterans Crisis Line : This helpline is a free, confidential resource for veterans of all ages and circumstances. Call 988 then press 1; text 838255; or chat online to connect with 24/7 support.
- Disaster Distress Hotline : This helpline from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides immediate crisis counseling for people experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. The helpline is free, multilingual, confidential, and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call or text 1-800-985-5990.
- NIH Health Info Lines
Health topics and resources for older adults
Featured health topics
- Anxiety Disorders
- Bipolar Disorder
- Coping with Traumatic Events
- Eating Disorders
- Medications: Older Adults
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Suicide Prevention
Featured brochures and fact sheets
- Depression Is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older : This Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage describes signs of depression and how depression can be different for older adults.
- Healthy Aging : This U.S. Department of Health and Human Services webpage lists links to health resources and services for older adults.
- National Institute on Aging (NIA): Health Topics : NIA offers health information on various topics, including depression .
- Older Adult Mental Health : The National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus offers resources on aging and mental health (en español ).
- Resources for Older Adults : The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers publications and digital products for and about older adults.
- Mental Health and Older Adults Facebook Live Q&A: Learn about mental and emotional wellness in later life, signs and symptoms of depression, and ways to maintain and improve mental health.
- NIMH Geriatrics and Aging Processes Research Branch: This NIMH branch supports programs of research, research mid-career development, and resource development in the etiology, pathophysiology, and course of mental disorders of late life; the relationships between aging and mental disorders; the treatment and recovery of persons with aging-related disorders; and the prevention of these disorders and their consequences.
Why should older adults participate in clinical trials?
Clinical trials are research studies that look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and conditions. The goal of clinical trials is to determine if a new test or treatment works and is safe. Although people may benefit from being part of a clinical trial, they should be aware that the primary purpose of a clinical trial is to gain new scientific knowledge so that others can be better helped in the future.
Researchers at NIMH and around the country conduct many studies with patients and healthy volunteers. We have new and better treatment options today because of what clinical trials have uncovered. Talk to a health care provider about clinical trials, their benefits and risks, and whether one is right for you.
To learn more or find a study, visit:
- NIMH’s Clinical Trials webpage: Information about participating in clinical trials
In addition, NIMH researchers are also studying mental disorders that affect older adults. To find studies being conducted at NIMH, visit Join a Study: Adults.
It is important for clinical trials to have participants of different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities. When research involves a group of people who are similar, the findings may not apply to or benefit everyone. When clinical trials include diverse participants, the study results may have a much wider applicability.
Researchers need the participation of older adults in their clinical trials so that they can learn more about how new drugs, therapies, medical devices, surgical procedures, or tests will work for all people. For more information, check out National Institute on Aging’s What Are Clinical Trials and Studies? tip sheet.
Last Reviewed: May 2023
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