May is Mental Health Awareness Month: Ignoring the Stigma and Having the Courage to Ask for Help

By Dr. Shankar Yalamanchili
Medical Director
Unity Psychiatric Care Huntsville

May is Mental Health Awareness month, and while it’s essential to promote mental health and well-being at all stages of life, it’s particularly crucial to focus on mental health among seniors. Older adults often face unique challenges related to mental health, such as loneliness, isolation, and physical health problems, which can make them more vulnerable to mental illness and cognitive decline.

One of the most common mental health issues among seniors is depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 7 million adults over the age of 65 experience depression each year. Depression can be difficult to spot in seniors because it can manifest in different ways, such as irritability, loss of interest in hobbies, or physical symptoms like fatigue and pain. Another significant concern for seniors is dementia, a term used to describe a decline in cognitive function that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for about 60-80% of cases. Warning signs of dementia may include memory loss that disrupts daily life, difficulty with familiar tasks, poor judgment, and changes in mood or personality.

If you’re concerned about the mental health of an older adult in your life, it’s essential to be aware of warning signs and seek help if necessary. Some signs of mental illness or cognitive decline include:

Social withdrawal: If your loved one is isolating themselves from family and friends or not participating in activities they once enjoyed, this could be a sign of depression or other mental health issues.

Changes in mood: If you notice your loved one is consistently irritable, sad, or anxious, this could be a sign of depression or other mood disorders.

Memory loss: While some degree of forgetfulness is normal with age, significant memory loss that disrupts daily life is a common sign of dementia.

Difficulty with familiar tasks: Struggling with tasks they once performed with ease, such as managing finances or cooking a meal, could be a sign of cognitive decline.

If you notice any of these warning signs, it’s crucial to talk to your loved one about what you’re seeing and encourage them to seek help. It’s also essential to involve a healthcare provider who can assess their mental health and cognitive function and provide appropriate treatment or referral to specialists.

Treatment for mental illness among seniors may include therapy, medication, or a combination of both. For depression, therapy can be particularly effective, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. Medication can also be helpful in managing symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Mental health is an essential part of overall health and well-being. Ignoring the stigma, reaching out for help, and engaging with well-trained mental health professionals can make a real difference in improving your quality of life. Don’t wait – take control of your mental health today and get the help you or your loved one needs.

Dr. Shankar Yalamanchili, is the medical director at Unity Psychiatric Care Huntsville, a 20 bed hospital which specializes in providing comprehensive inpatient mental health care for those 55 and older. Unity Psychiatric Care Huntsville also offers outpatient mental health services to adults of all ages. Unity Psychiatric Care Huntsville is located at 5315 Millennium Dr NW, Huntsville, AL 35806. For more information call 256-964-6700 or visit

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