AAGP Commends White House on Attention to Mental Health and Urges Focus for All Age Groups

Published Thursday, June 6, 2013

On June 3, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden hosted a National Conference on Mental Health at the White House as part of an effort to launch a national conversation to increase understanding and awareness about mental health. The American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP) applauds the Administration’s focus on mental health care and encourages policymakers to expand the focus on quality mental health care across the lifespan, including care for older adults.

Mental illness among the aging population is a serious public health issue as evidenced by the suicide rates of older adults, which are still among the highest for any age group: Suicide rates for males are highest among those aged 75 and older, and for females, highest for those aged 45-54, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Depression in elderly people often goes untreated because of the misconception that depression is a normal part of aging and a natural reaction to chronic illness, and because the symptoms of depression in older adults can differ from those of adolescents or middle-aged adults.  In addition, currently, more than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease—a mental health crisis for those patients, their caregivers, and family members. 

Mental illness carries a stigma for all age groups, and many senior citizens will not seek medical help. With many older adults living alone, it is challenging to identify those who are in need of assistance; furthermore health care providers are often not trained to diagnose and treat mental illness in the geriatric population.  As the national dialogue continues on this critical issue, AAGP urges policymakers to work to eliminate the gaps in services to the elderly with mental illness by increasing access to quality mental health care and addressing the prevalent stigma associated with these diseases.