Older Adults and Mental Health
It’s just as important for an older person with symptoms of depression to seek treatment as it is for someone younger. The impact of depression on health in older adults can be severe: much research has reported that depression is associated with worse health in people with conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Depression can complicate the treatment of these conditions, including making it more difficult for someone to care for him- or herself and to seek treatment when needed. In older adults, depression may be disregarded as frailty, or it may be viewed as an inevitable result of life changes, chronic illness, and disability. Recognizing the signs and seeing a health practitioner is the first step to getting treatment, which can make a real difference in someone’s quality of life.
- 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
- A need for alcohol or drugs
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions
- Engaging in high-risk activities
- Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
- Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life
- Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern other people
Mental disorders can be treated: If you are unsure where to go for help, ask your family doctor or visit NIMH’s Help for Mental Illnesses webpage. Communicating well with your health care provider can improve your care and help you both make good choices about your health. 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.
If you or someone you know is in a crisis, get help immediately. You can call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- Electroconvulsive Therapy Lifts Depression, Sustains Remission in Older Adults
• Science Update
An individualized program of follow-up treatment with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) combined with an antidepressant was effective in preventing relapse in patients 60 years and older who had had a successful initial course of treatment for severe depression.
- Antipsychotics Use Among Older Adults Increases with Age
• Press Release
Researchers find antipsychotic use among older adults increases with age despite known health risks. In 2010, more than 3/4 of seniors receiving an antipsychotic prescription had no documented clinical psychiatric diagnosis during the year. In addition, among those who did have a diagnosed mental disorder and/or dementia, nearly half of the oldest patients had dementia, regardless of FDA warnings that antipsychotics increase mortality in people with dementia.
Health Topics and Resources
Featured Health Topics
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 resources: This U.S. Department of Health and Human Services webpage lists links to health resources and services for older adults.
- National Institute of Aging (NIA): NIA offers health information on a variety of topics of relevance to older adults.
- Older Adult Mental Health: National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus offers resources on aging and mental health (en Español).
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): SAMHSA offers publications for and about older adults.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: The Lifeline provides 24-hour, toll-free, and confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to connect with a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area. Support is available in English and Spanish and via live chat.
- Veterans Crisis Line: This helpline is a free, confidential resource for Veterans of all ages and circumstances. Call 1-800-273-8255, press "1"; text 838255; or chat online to connect with 24/7 support.
- Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741 for free and confidential support 24 hours a day throughout the U.S.
- Disaster Distress Hotline: People affected by any disaster or tragedy can call this helpline, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to receive immediate counseling. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkwithUs” to 66746, to connect with a trained professional from the closest crisis counseling center within the network.
- More NIH Information Lines
Clinical research is medical research that involves people like you. People volunteer to participate in carefully conducted investigations that ultimately uncover better ways to treat, prevent, diagnose, and understand human disease. Clinical research includes trials that test new treatments and therapies as well as long–term natural history studies, which provide valuable information about how disease and health progress.
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) conduct a large number of research studies with patients and healthy volunteers. To find studies being conducted at the NIMH, visit Join a Study: Adults. NIMH studies take place at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland and require regular visits. If you don’t live nearby but are interested in finding a clinical trial near you, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.
Why do clinical trials need older participants?
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 people in their clinical trials so that scientists can learn more about how the new drugs, therapies, medical devices, surgical procedures, or tests will work for older people. For more information, check out the National Institute on Aging (NIA)’s What Are Clinical Trials and Studies? tip sheet.
Last Revised: March 2018
Unless otherwise specified, NIMH information and publications are in the public domain and available for use free of charge. Citation of the NIMH is appreciated. Please see our Citing NIMH Information and Publications page for more information.