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Older Adults and Mental Health

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.

Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Learn more about taking care of your mental health.

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

Mental disorders can be treated: A primary care provider is a good place to start if you're looking for help. They can refer you to a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker, who can help you figure out next steps. Find tips for talking with a health care provider about your mental health.

You can learn more about getting help on the NIMH website. You can also learn about finding support  and locating mental health services in your area on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website. 

If you or someone you know is struggling or having thoughts of suicide, call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline  at 988 or chat at . In life-threatening situations, call 911.

Health hotlines

  • 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

Featured brochures and fact sheets

Federal resources


Research resources

  • 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:

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.

Our studies take place at the NIH Clinical Center  in Bethesda, Maryland, and require regular visits. If you don’t live nearby, you can find a clinical trial near you .

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: April 2024

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