More and more of the elderly are seeking psychological help, according to a report by Abby Ellin for The New York Times. "Most (seniors) never set foot near an analyst’s couch in their younger years. But now, as people are living longer, and the stigma of psychological counseling has diminished, they are recognizing that their golden years might be easier if they alleviate the problems they have been carrying around for decades," wrote Ellin.
“We’ve been seeing more people in their 80s and older over the past five years, many who have never done therapy before,” said Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, a professor of research in the department of psychiatry at Stanford, in an interview with Ellin. “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?”
Six and a half million Americans over the age of 65 suffer from depression, according to data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Many are dealing with issues that have been left unaddressed for years. But new concerns about living arrangements, finances, chronic health problems, the loss of loved ones and their own mortality may prompt seniors who would otherwise be reluctant to seek care.
The fact that seniors are acknowledging psychological problems is a significant change, according to Ellin. "Many grew up in an era when only 'crazy' people sought psychiatric help. They would never admit to themselves — and certainly not others — that anything might be wrong."
“For people in their 80s and 90s now, depression was considered almost a moral weakness,” said Dr. Gallagher-Thompson in her interview with Ellin. “Fifty years ago, when they were in their 20s and 30s, people were locked up and someone threw away the key. 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.”
But those attitudes have shifted over time, along with the medical community’s understanding of mental illness among seniors. Ellin also notes the fact that mental health services are covered by Medicare also contributes to the trend.