Mental Health and Seniors

According to the Pan American Health Organization people aged 85 and older have the highest suicide rate of any age group. This statistic may shock many Oregonians, but it doesn’t surprise specialists in the Yamhill County Health and Human Services department.

“In 2014, advocates for older adults and people with disabilities succeeded in lobbying the Oregon Legislature to fund the Behavioral Health Initiative for Older Adults and People with Physical Disabilities,” shares Lacey Plasker, BSW, an older adult behavioral health specialist with Yamhill County.

Someone needed to advocate for older adults since one in four struggles with mental health concerns such as severe depression and anxiety. Thankfully, funding came through the Initiative, creating 25 new positions throughout Oregon. This has allowed Yamhill County to improve access to behavioral health providers for seniors, provide complex case consultations, and promote collaboration and training within the community.

One of those trainings is coming to Friendsview! On September 14 and 15 trainers with the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) will join us for a two-day interactive workshop on suicide “first-aid.”

Lacey states that “personal and societal attitudes can affect views on suicide and interventions.” The ASIST workshop aims to shed light on these views, as well as provide guidance on mental health first-aid, identify safety plans, integrate prevention resources into the community, and recognize other important aspects of prevention such as life-promotion and self-care.

Due to a lack of training and views on prevention, many people are surprised by the prevalence of suicide among older adults. Informal polls show that most believe that teen rates are much higher. However, two-thirds of seniors facing depression and anxiety never receive treatment, which sadly keeps this population’s suicide rates skyrocketing. 

Another misconception about mental health and seniors includes when disorders begin. It is easy to assume that depression and anxiety stem from a life-long struggle that perhaps went undiagnosed. While that may be the case for some seniors, it is not true for all. Older adults can suddenly find themselves in the middle of a mental health crisis caused by an unexpected physical condition. The National Institute of Mental Health states that certain “conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and strokes cause changes in the brain. In some cases, these changes may have a direct role in depression. Illness-related anxiety and stress also can trigger symptoms of depression.”

Depression, the most frequent condition that older adults face, is common among those with chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, hypothyroidism, coronary heart disease, and more.

It makes sense that the physical would have such an impact on the mental and emotional state of a person. The body is an intricate, complicated creation with interconnecting pieces that affect each other in powerful ways. Plus, there are so many areas that physicians are just beginning to understand. What we do know is there are ways to thrive even when the body or mind is in pain.

What Can You Do?

You don’t have to sit on the sidelines when it comes to the mental health of older adults. Here are three steps you can take to understand behavioral health:

  1. Be aware of your personal view on older adults and mental health topics. Take some time to reflect on your views of mental health struggles, suicide, and how it affects seniors. Do you feel compassion and mercy for those facing depression and anxiety? Or is it a struggle to understand why a person may need assistance with a mental health diagnosis? Understanding what you believe is key in advocating for self-care and suicide prevention.
  2. Think about your mental health journey. It can feel easier to recognize depression, anxiety, and other behavioral health struggles in others. But what about within yourself? The National Institute of Mental Health states that some signs of depression can include:
    • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
    • Feeling hopeless or pessimistic
    • Feeling irritable, easily frustrated‚ or restless
    • Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
    • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
    • Decreased energy, fatigue, or feeling “slowed down”
    • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
    • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
    • Changes in appetite or weight
    • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause that do not ease even with treatment

If these symptoms resonate with you, it may be time to reach out to your primary care doctor for a consultation or a health care specialist at the Yamhill County Health and Human Services department. Scroll down to the end of this blog for other free local and national resources.

At the very least, talk to family, friends, or a Friendsview team member about how you are feeling right now. We know that depression hurts. Anxiety hurts. Sometimes, life just hurts. But you are not alone. And many people care about you and are willing to help. Even people that do not know you yet.

  1. Get training. Either participate in a local ASIST workshop or seek out other training opportunities that focus on suicide first-aid and prevention. These workshops help you help others, as well as highlight how to uphold personal boundaries so you can also protect your mental health.

Suicide among older adults is a complicated topic that is not always discussed. As a community, we hope to create a space for authentic conversations and opportunities for learning. Let us know what you think and what other resources you are interested in bringing to Friendsview.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with suicidal thoughts, anxiety, or depression please thoughtfully consider these resources:

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

24 hours a day / 7 days a week

24/7 Suicide and Crisis Chat Line

En español: 988
TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)

Veterans Crisis Line

Confidential help for veterans and their families.
Call 988 and Press 1
Text to 838255
24/7 Veterans Suicide and Crisis Chat Line

Yamhill County Crisis Services


Crisis Text Line

Text OREGON to 741741 – 24 hours a day / 7 days a week ​

Friends For Survival, Inc.

National support for survivors of suicide.


Offers teen to teen crisis help with both a phone line and a texting support line through Lines for Life.
Teens respond from 4:00 to 10:00 PM Monday through Friday
24 hours a day / 7 days a week
Call 1-877-968-8491
Text teen2teen to 839863