Mental Health and Baby Boomers: Reducing stigma is the key to healthy aging

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By Rich Crislip

LLC, Director of Behavioral Health Integration at OptumCare Arizona

As members of the Baby Boomer generation reach what was once considered their “golden years,” many are redefining what it means to be an older adult. Instead of retirement and rocking chairs, they’re working longer and living more active lifestyles than their parents ever did. But while Baby Boomers tend to be more physically healthy than previous generations, many of my patients struggle to address a key component to overall wellness: their mental health.

People are often surprised to learn that rates of mental health disorders are rising fastest among Baby Boomers: It’s estimated that 20 percent of people age 55 or older experience some type of mental health issue, and the number of older adults with depression is expected to double between 2010 and 2030. We go through a lot of changes as we age, such as death of loved ones, medical problems or retirement that can make us feel uneasy, stressed or sad. It’s normal to go through an adjustment period before starting to feel well again. But if these feelings persist and begin interfering with daily life and normal functioning, it’s time to seek the treatment needed to feel better.

Unfortunately, older adults are often hesitant to reach out for help due to the persistent stigma around mental health issues and generational differences in how these disorders are perceived. Sometimes all it takes is a gentle nudge from a friend or loved one to help someone take that first step to finding help. If you’ve been wondering how you can offer support and encouragement to someone who may be struggling, here is some advice for starting the conversation (see right):

Raising awareness and reducing stigma around mental health issues are keys to supporting well-being within our communities. It’s up to all of us to reach out and encourage our friends, neighbors and family members in need to access these available resources.

For more information and links to mental health support resources in your area, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness at or call the NAMI HelpLine at 800-950-NAMI (6264).

Show that you’re concerned in a way that is not confrontational or judgmental

Let them know that you care about them, and you want to check in because you’re concerned about recent changes you’ve noticed in their mood or behavior.

Keep questions simple

Ask how they’re doing, what they’re feeling, and how you can help provide support.

Offer reassurance and hope

Let them know that they’re not alone, and that you‘re there to support them in actively seeking help to feel better.

Avoid phrases that could sound dismissive or accusatory

Although you may not understand what they’re feeling, it’s important to only express your unwavering support.

Suggest reaching out to a local recovery support resource

Ask if they have thought about seeking support from a professional trained to help with these types of issues. Consider having some suggestions ready to share or offer to research local resources together.

After your initial conversation, stay engaged with your loved one and check in regularly

Having consistent support from family and friends can make a huge difference in people’s well-being.