In recent years, mental health has become a popular topic of discussion. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, mental health is “a state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with challenges” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020). Mental health affects various aspects of everyday life and includes emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing (Older Adult Mental Health, n.d.). Mental health is important at any stage of life and can affect stress management, relationships, and decision making. In relation, mental illness, also called mental health conditions, is defined as “health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking, or behavior“ (Parekh, 2018). To learn more about mental illness, read the related Keiro fact sheet here.
Mental health conditions are not a normal part of aging. However, older adults may be more at risk for mental health problems (Older Adult Mental Health, n.d.). Approximately 20% of older adults suffer from one or more mental health and/or substance use conditions. Comparatively, Medicare expenditures for mental health services account for less than four percent of overall spending (Plotkin, 2021). Evidently, older adults may not seek out help for mental health conditions. In addition, Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) may be less likely to seek out treatment and supportive services due to language barriers, lack of awareness, and stigma surrounding mental health issues (Mental Health America, n.d.A). There are various ways to treat and manage the mental health needs of older adults. Some possible ways to treat and manage mental health needs include psychotherapy, medication, or behavior modification. For the purposes of this fact sheet, the focus will be on mental health and therapy.
Mental health treatment, support, and services vary from person to person. The type and length of therapy depend on individual situations, insurance, and other treatment options such as medication (Mental Health America, n.d.). Therapy can help individuals cope with symptoms, handle strong emotions such as fear or grief, and enhance problem-solving skills (Mental Health America, n.d.). Before starting therapy, talk with trusted individuals such as family, a doctor, or someone who has utilized therapy before. Learn about different types of therapy, what to expect from therapy, and how to get the most out of therapy before starting.
Everyone experiences obstacles or struggles of some type. This can include stress, relationship problems, anxiety, and more. Sometimes, these struggles can be managed by taking better care of oneself or talking with a supportive friend. Other times, seeking professional help may be beneficial. There are two general factors to consider when therapy may be helpful (American Psychological Association, 2017):
- Is the problem distressing?
- Do you spend time thinking about the issue every week?
- Is the problem embarrassing so that you hide it from others?
- Over the past few months, has the problem reduced your quality of life?
- Is the problem interfering with some aspect of your life?
- Does the problem take up considerable time (i.e., more than one hour a day)?
- Have you reduced other priorities (work, family, etc.) because of the problem?
- Are you rearranging your lifestyle to accommodate the problem?
Answering “yes” to any of the questions above may suggest that considering therapy could be helpful. Deciding to enter therapy is a very personal decision. Learning more about different types of therapy or other treatment options that are available can help individuals find support that fits best with their personality and lifestyle.
Types of Therapy
Learning more about different types of therapy and how the process works can greatly help individuals considering therapy. The following are a few common types of therapy (Mental Health America, n.d.):
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This two-part therapy consists of cognitive and behavioral aspects.
- The cognitive portion works to develop helpful beliefs about an individual’s life.
- The behavioral portion teaches individuals to take healthier actions
- This form of therapy works well for those experiencing depression and/or anxiety.
- Family therapy: This type of therapy helps family members communicate, manage conflicts, and improve problem solving.
- Psychotherapy: Also known as “talk-therapy,” this involves dealing with thoughts, behaviors, symptoms, stress, goals, and more.
In addition to different types of therapy, there are also different types of therapists. Some therapists may specialize in certain types of therapy or treat specific issues. Therapists can be psychiatrists, psychologists, and clinical social workers. One kind of therapist is not necessarily better than another. Therapists can have different levels of training and the type of professional degree does not make one type better than another (Stepko, 2020).
- A psychologist has a doctorate in psychology (PhD or PsyD) and typically provides psychodynamic or talk therapy.
- A psychiatrist has attended medical school (MD) and can prescribe medication.
- Clinical social workers typically have a master’s degree (LCSW or LSW) and are trained to provide psychotherapy.
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) typically have a master’s degree and are trained to help families and couples identify and treat personal and/or interpersonal problems (Pacific Oaks College, 2021).
What to Expect
Since mental health varies depending on the individual, solutions such as therapy are also dependent on the situation. Therapy may be a short-term or longer-term solution. Therapy is a personal experience that requires time, strength, and patience (Casabianca & Russell, 2021). Knowing what to expect from therapy can help individuals manage their expectations (Mental Health America, n.d.). Typically, the first session in therapy is an introductory session and allows the therapist to get to know the client better and vice versa.
Everyone utilizing therapy has a right to feel safe and respected. It is okay to ask about confidentiality and privacy. Therapy addresses the individual’s needs, goals, and concerns. It is important to feel comfortable sharing personal thoughts and talking to a trusted therapist. Think about what traits a therapist should have to make the experience more comfortable for you. Some people consider the following traits when searching for a therapist:
- Age (someone older or younger than you)
- Someone with a shared cultural background
- Style (formal vs. informal/friendly)
Get the Most Out of Therapy
Therapy will work best through active participation from both the client and the therapist. Individuals can get the most out of therapy in the following ways (Mental Health America, n.d.):
- Share goals for treatment. Think about specific behaviors or issues that are personally important.
- Keep an open mind. Be willing to consider new ways of thinking.
- Be open and honest. Therapists cannot help if they do not understand the whole picture.
- Voice concerns. If you feel like you are not making progress or are not comfortable, tell the therapist and ask them for advice. They should want to figure out ways to help you get the most out of therapy too.
- It can take some time to find the right therapist, so do not get discouraged if one therapist does not work out.
- Eventually, you may find that you want to decrease the number of therapy sessions you have or stop therapy all together. Good therapists understand that this is part of the treatment process.
Overall, therapy can be a helpful and beneficial solution to those working on their mental health. A key part of utilizing therapy is being prepared. Be prepared to put in time, money, and effort to get the most out of therapy. Additionally, consider thinking of therapy as a form of investment for your wellbeing. If you put time and resources toward your physical health, you should also allocate the same to your mental health. Once you think you are prepared to start therapy, ask your doctor for a referral to a therapist they think could benefit you. Finding a therapist is not always easy and may take time. However, this time and effort spent finding the right therapist will be beneficial in the long run. Below are additional resources to assist you in your mental health journey.
Keiro’s Mental Health and Mental Illness Fact Sheet: https://www.keiro.org/fact-sheet/mental-health-and-mental-illness
Mental Health Assessment Fact Sheet: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/my-mental-health-do-i-need-help
Medicare Coverage and Mental Health Care: https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/mental-health-care-outpatient
American Psychological Association. (2017). How Do I Know if I Need Therapy? Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/seeking-therapy
Casabianca, S. & Russell, T. (2021). What is Psychotherapy and How Does It Help? Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/psychotherapy
Mental Health America. (n.d.). Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.mhanational.org/therapy
Mental Health America. (n.d.A). Asian American/Pacific Islander Communities and Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.mhanational.org/issues/asian-americanpacific-islander-communities-and-mental-health
Older Adult Mental Health. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/olderadultmentalhealth.html
Pacific Oaks College. (2021). What is the Difference Between an LCSW and an LMFT? Retrieved from https://www.pacificoaks.edu/voices/psychology/what-is-the-difference-between-an-lcsw-and-an-lmft/
Parekh, R. (2018). What Is Mental Illness? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/what-is-mental-illness
Plotkin, D. (2021). Think You Are Too Old for Mental Health Therapy? Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2021/mental-health-therapy.html
Stepko, B. (2020). A Guide to Finding the Right Mental Health Therapist. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/find-mental-health-therapist.html
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Mental Health and Mental Health Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/mental-health-and-mental-disorders