Age should not limit access to quality mental health services. Yet, this is often the case in Canada. Community-based services and primary care providers have an important role to play in helping people stay mentally well and successfully manage the wide range of mental health problems and illnesses they can face as they age.
More than 1.8 million people over 60 years of age were living with a mental health problem or illness in Canada in 2016. As people live longer, our approach to mental health must account for the changing needs and increasing numbers of older adults living with mental health problems and illnesses.
In addition, as people age, they face overlapping stigma: the stigma of living with a mental health problem or illness, as well as the stigma of being older. Some older adults from the LGBTQ2+ community and/or from different backgrounds and cultures may encounter additional stigma.
Mental health problems and illnesses among older adults are likely to affect every family in Canada in some way. If left unaddressed, the increasing pressure on the healthcare system will have significant social and economic impacts. And many caregivers are aging adults themselves, so addressing their mental health concerns now will help improve the quality of life for countless more people as they grow older.
The MHCC’s Mental Health Strategy for Canada identifies seniors’ mental health as an action priority and makes several recommendations for improvement. The MHCC is doing its part by leading a number of projects to help ensure older Canadians get the support they need to achieve and maintain their best possible mental health, and not experience the problem of stigma.
Promoting guidelines for mental health services
The MHCC has developed Guidelines for Comprehensive Mental Health Services for Older Adults in Canada (“Guidelines”). This is a resource for policy makers and service providers in planning, developing, and implementing a mental health service system that better responds to the unique needs of an aging population. The Guidelines were informed by older adults themselves. They also incorporate the values and perspectives of families, caregivers, mental health service providers, and advocacy groups. The MHCC is working with leaders across the health system to promote the uptake of these guidelines, including in home care.
Evaluating what works
To assess policies, programs and services affecting seniors’ mental health, the MHCC endorses the use of the Seniors’ Mental Health Policy Lens as a tool to assist in implementing the Guidelines. This toolkit supports the assessment of existing services using the principles outlined in the Guidelines. As an analytical framework, it allows organizations and all levels of government to identify and address unintended negative effects of their mental health programs.
Building capacity to promote mental health in seniors
Mental Health First Aid has developed a Seniors course intended to increase the capacity of aging people, families (informal caregivers), friends, staff in care settings, and communities to promote mental health in older adults. More information can be found here .
Other important Canadian initiatives that focus on mental health promotion and health living, such as the Canadian Age Friendly Cities initiative, Fountain of Health or Living Life to the Full, are emerging every year.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) created a number of resources to to help ensure older Canadians get the support they need to achieve and maintain their mental health and wellness. Click on the links below for more information.