Updated January 2023
Does your work bring you into regular contact with seniors? Does your position in community services or health care involve supporting older people?
Out of all the seniors you see in a year, what percentage do you suspect suffer from poor mental health?
Data from Statistics Canada shows that more than one-third of seniors reported that their mental health had worsened during the pandemic.
And as our population ages, these numbers are expected to grow.
This post focuses on three of the biggest mental health challenges Canadians seniors are facing right now,and offers an overview of helpful facts for anyone who works with older adults in the community.
Rising rates of depression among Canadian seniors
Depression is the most common mental health challenge for older adults.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that nearly half (44 per cent) of seniors living in long-term care facilities have a diagnosis and/or symptoms of depression. As many as 18 per cent of the 50,000 seniors surveyed had no documented diagnosis and no treatment plan.
The study found that seniors with depression were more likely to experience significant medical, social, functional, and quality-of-life challenges.
What's more, it has been estimated that depression increases the risk of death in older adults by two to three times. And this mood disorder constitutes the most important factor associated with risk of suicide in old age.
But the truth is, many of these spiraling, negative outcomes can be avoided.
Once diagnosed, many cases of depression are highly treatable with combinations of counselling, medication, psychotherapy, and newer forms of brain stimulation.
The problem lies with lack of awareness and stigmatization. The people who work closely with seniors do not recognize the warning signs of depression, and those afflicted are often too ashamed to speak out.
Seniors, addiction & concurrent disorders
The number of older adults with addiction problems has been trending upward for years across North America.
The U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that drug overdose death rates among seniors have more than tripled over the past 20 years. And alcohol-related deaths in the over-65 cohort have been rising since 2011.
For many people, including seniors, addiction is intertwined with mental health issues, such as depression, making diagnosis and treatment a serious challenge.
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, at least 20 per cent of people with a mental illness have a co-occurring substance use problem. And people with substance use problems are up to three times more likely to have a mental illness.
Health Canada recommends specific strategies for recognizing and treating concurrent disorders (combinations of mental illness and addiction). Better training for community-based professionals and primary health care providers is a key pillar of new initiatives in this area.
Only through targeted education and credentialing will front liners learn how to support older adults suffering from addiction, and prevent the inevitable and compounding negative impacts of this disease.
Related: Guide to Concurrent Disorders for Community Mental Health Professionals
Access to support services and mental health care
There is a growing body of evidence that shows escalating mental health challenges among Canadian seniors. So why haven't our health care services adapted to meet this need?
Much of the problem stems from a lack of community mental health training for early identification and intervention.
A surprising number of people believe depression is a normal and unavoidable part of the aging process. We need public education to reduce stigma and ignorance and community mental health training for public sector professionals on the front lines.
Increasing our knowledge of ageism, discrimination, and normal aging vs. mental health problems is key to quelling the rising tide of mental illness among Canadian seniors.
Learn more about community mental health training
Interested in building practical skills and knowledge in common mental health issues?
Explore the Community Mental Health & Addictions certificate offered through Kompass Professional Development.
Courses are available online and can be completed at your own pace. Training is led by highly experienced mental health professionals.
Click below to explore the certificate or chat live with admissions for more information. We're here to help!