Mental health is an important part of our overall wellbeing. As people across the province try to adapt to a post-COVID-19 world, many are struggling with this component of their health.
For seniors, the need to self-isolate as a result of COVID-19 has unique challenges. For some older adults, loneliness can result in feelings of isolation and depression. Worries about contracting the virus can also result in anxiety. While mental health issues can emerge at any stage in a person’s lifetime, older adults who have had past experiences with mental health challenges are more at risk.
Common indications of depression are feeling hopeless, losing interest in activities, weight loss or gain, or problems sleeping. However, some people will experience physical symptoms such as aches and pains. Anxiety is usually described as prolonged feelings of fear, nervousness, or feeling restless or tense. It can also include intrusive or repetitive thoughts and physical symptoms such as sweating or shaking, gastrointestinal distress, or feeling dizzy. Some people with anxiety will experience anxiety attacks, often without warning. Older adults sometimes describe their experiences slightly differently than younger adults.
Maintaining a routine that is as regular as possible, staying connected with family and friends (virtually or by phone), eating well, and exercising can all assist in support mental health. However, there are also resources available to assist seniors who need support.
Resources to help
- Your family doctor: Begin by speaking to your family doctor or visiting a walk-in clinic. There are virtual options that are available to help you do this.
- The Mental Health Support Line: Call the Mental Health Support Line at 310-6789 (no area code) for information about services in your area.
- Local mental health programs: Find a local mental health centre or program at gov.bc.ca/mentalhealthor find your local Canadian Mental Health Association branch at www.cmha.bc.ca.
- BC211: Contact a local senior’s support organization or group and ask for advice. You can search for organizations at bc211.ca.
- The Seniors Distress Line: Seniors in British Columbia can also call 604-872-1234 for telephone support from a trained volunteer at the Crisis Centre on topics specific to older adults. Topics may include suicide, retirement, stress, relocation, loss of a loved one, physical or mental health issues, emotional support, or help working through a problem. The Seniors Distress Line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and in up to 140 languages.
Resources specific to COVID-19
- Recently, the Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health launched resources specific to COVID-19, including information on managing anxiety, and activities to do while physical distancing.
- COVID specific supports can also be found on the Canadian Mental Health Association’s website.
- Route 65 has more information on managing anxiety during COVID-19. Read more here.
Starting a conversation
People looking to support a senior who is showing signs of anxiety, depression or other mental health issues can start by listening without judgment, normalizing without minimizing the person’s experience and empathizing without aiming to fix the situation. If possible, come prepared to recommend available resources.
For people with cognitive impairment or communication limitations
Just because someone has challenges communicating how they are feeling, does not mean that they can’t experience depression or anxiety.
If you are a caregiver noticing changes and the person is not able to self-direct the help-seeking process, ask that the person’s doctor and (if the person lives in a care home) care team become involved.
The First Link® Dementia Helpline can provide support for caregivers of people living with dementia.