Therapy Helps Brighten Senior Living

Julia Little  |  August 21, 2013

In recent years, the stigma around mental health issues has started to dissipate, but for many people, having emotional problems is not something to talk about openly. This is especially true for seniors, who grew up in a time when mental health concerns were largely kept under wraps. However, some seniors are finding the opportunity in their golden years to seek out some of the benefits of cognitive therapy.

Living a longer, happier life
The New York Times reports that many psychiatrists have noted an increase in seniors who enlist the help of psychotherapy. Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, professor of research in the psychiatry department of Stanford University, told the news outlet that over the last five years, she and her colleagues have been seeing more individuals in their 80s and 90s who have never sought help before coming into their offices for therapy. 

"Usually, they've tried other resources like their church, or talked to family. They're realizing that they're living longer, and if you've got another 10 or 15 years, why be miserable if there's something that can help you?" she told the news outlet. 

Indeed, with seniors living longer than ever, it makes sense to seek help when things don't seem so sunny. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, depression affects more than 6.5 million American seniors, and plenty more are never diagnosed with clinical depression but struggle with feelings of grief or isolation as their spouses, family members and friends pass away or they lose physical aspects of their independence.

Minimizing the stigma for seniors 
Gallagher-Thompson added that the stigma that surrounded mental illness when the Greatest Generation was younger made emotional problems seem like a "moral weakness" that deserved punishment. 

"Fifty years ago, when they were in their 20s and 30s, people were locked up and someone threw away the key," she explained. "They had a terrible fear that if they said they were depressed, they were going to end up in an institution. So they learned to look good and cover their problems as best they could."

Fortunately, these views have changed over time, much thanks to the medical advancements that have raised awareness and created understanding of the causes of (and cures for) mental health problems.

Striving for happier seniors
Psychotherapy is a viable option for many seniors, but it's not the only way to bust negative emotions. HelpGuide.org reports that getting enough exercise and sleep can improve the moods of seniors, as can caring for a pet or connecting with others. Living in a senior living community makes it easy for seniors to find these and other activities that can lift their spirits. 

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