Good mental health is critical throughout life, including as we age. Growing older tends to include stressors and emotional challenges such as caregiving stress, chronic illness, functional limitations, financial concerns, death and bereavement, and loneliness.
Identifying and holistically addressing mental health issues in seniors helps them maintain independence and a positive outlook, helping older citizens enjoy their later years with optimism and interest. Isolation, grief, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, dementia, and psychosis substantially impact the quality of life and, in turn, exacerbate mental and physical disorders.
Untreated mental health ailments can complicate the management of chronic physical conditions, impede medical regimes and healthy lifestyle choices. Instead, proper support and care can help provide some relief.
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Mental Health Among Older US Adults
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), mental illness is common in the United States, with an estimated one in five adults (57.8 million or 20%) living with a mental illness. The prevalence of mental imbalance, including severe conditions, is higher among females (27% to 18% in males) and younger adults aged 18-25 (34%). Any mental ailment occurs in 28% of those aged 26-49 and 15% in those aged 50-plus.
At the same time, Americans over 85 have the highest suicide rate across all ages. Affective disorders such as depression are the most commonly reported among older adults, although largely underdiagnosed and treated. The National Council on Aging (NCA) reports that while adults aged 65 and over make up 12% of the population, they comprise around 18% of suicides. This age group’s attempts are also more likely to succeed, with one in every four attempts proving fatal compared to 1 in 200 among the youth.
The loss of a companion, loneliness, money worries, depression, cognitive difficulties, loss of independence, and chronic physical and mental illnesses frequently drive these tragically preventable statistics. According to Do Mental, approximately 80% of seniors experience one or more chronic illnesses, with a quarter (24%) reporting depression or anxiety. The rate has increased, possibly due to the recent Covid-19 pandemic. However, with knowledge of mental health and its diagnosis and treatment expanding, there’s no reason for older adults to experience these stressors without support.
Unfortunately, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), mental health services are often limited. Up to two-thirds of seniors cannot access the treatment they need, creating a significant treatment gap.
The Importance of Mental Health Care for Seniors
Mental health care access can help combat loneliness, keeping seniors socially connected. Engaging activities help maintain mental and emotional well-being and cognitive functioning, making it more acceptable for older adults to seek help. It can support the elder’s family, helping reduce caregiver stress, fatigue, and burnout. Professional intervention can also contribute to addressing and reducing senior neglect and abuse.
Early detection and treatment are essential for efficient mental health care, leading to improved outcomes faster and avoiding more severe conditions. In addition, addressing mental health concerns can reduce medical services costs for caregivers in the long term. Hence, providing professional and targeted senior mental health should receive priority over physical health.
The onus is on primary healthcare providers, local government, social organizations, mental health professionals, communities, and families to provide comprehensive mental health care within supportive environments. Policymakers must ensure that national health policy and planning cater to senior mental health needs. Concurrently, communities can improve inclusiveness and encourage elders to participate socially more actively.
Simultaneously, getting to a physical location for therapy can be challenging or impossible for elders with disabling mental conditions, mobility issues, and living alone or remotely. The emergence of telehealth and online therapy, including for seniors, is a godsend for these seniors and their caregivers.
The Benefits of Online Mental Health Therapy for Seniors
Virtual therapy is an ideal solution to mobility, mood, and monetary barriers without compromising the quality of care for older adults with online access. Online counseling sessions are accessible, affordable, and as effective as conventional on-premise options. The benefits for anyone seeking assistance, and especially for seniors, Include:
- Convenience: With online counseling, there is no travel or disruption required. This convenience can help save money and time while making therapy available for those living remotely or with mobility, mood, or other concerns making them housebound.
- Ease and flexibility: Online therapy includes real-time (synchronous) appointments and asynchronous communications, making virtual counseling available wherever and whenever needed. Booking appointments for live sessions is usually much easier and faster than traditional therapy approaches, with improved availability. Choose a time that works for you, including evenings and weekends.
- Home-based comfort: Beyond helping you skip the queues, online counseling is conducted in the comfort of home – in your pajamas if you like – helping you feel relaxed and safe.
- Confidentiality: Staying at home means not bumping into anyone else. Your sessions are also conducted in a fully secured virtual therapy space, ensuring your privacy and peace of mind.
- The best therapist for you: Online platforms match you with qualified and experienced professionals aligned with your unique preferences, needs, and goals. You are also not bound to one counselor and can request a different match if required.
Online therapy is a valuable option for many, providing accessible help across diverse concerns and conditions. However, note that virtual counseling may not be appropriate for everyone. Specific therapy techniques and acute problems may warrant on-premises or even hospital-based treatment. As online therapy can be conducted by video and messaging, deaf or hard-of-hearing people should be able to access this option. Please check with the provider.
Is Online Therapy for Seniors Effective?
The accessibility of online mental health therapy for seniors makes the approach exceedingly suited for treating this often vulnerable and housebound population segment.
Much research has compared online therapy with on-premises treatment across various modalities treatment. Results are positive, indicating that virtual approaches can be as effective as other methods. For example, recent results published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders concluded that a leading therapy – cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – is equally impactful online.
Findings in the World Journal of Psychiatry report that online mental health assessments are as reliable, outcomes as positive, and patients as satisfied as conventional in-person therapy. In addition, the American Psychological Association cites that 96% of psychologists approve of online counseling as a valuable and proven therapeutic tool. Moreover, nine in ten use or plan to use online counseling as a permanent practice tool.
How Does Virtual Therapy Work?
The details of the process can differ across providers and platforms. Still, in most cases, you can expect the following:
- Sharing your situation and needs using a confidential online questionnaire: Using this information, the platform will match you with a therapist or a choice of therapists who suit your preferences and align with your goals.
This “coupling” provides you with a professional with exposure to your unique issues and related therapeutic techniques and whom you could relate to and enjoy working with. You can request a different therapist if the first match feels less than comfortable.
- Real-time therapy sessions: The next phase in your online counseling is booking and attending virtual therapy sessions. These appointments are conducted using a video meeting on the platform’s app, WhatsApp, Zoom, or FaceTime.
This face-to-face interaction helps your counselor assess and understand your verbal and non-verbal expressions and feedback. However, if you prefer, you can choose audio-only sessions.
- Around-the-clock support: Beyond live sessions, you can access a 100% private “virtual therapy room,” where you can complete therapy homework, share messages, and receive and review your therapist’s advice.
Seniors or their caregivers must be comfortable with technology, have a connected device – a laptop, tablet, or smartphone – and have reliable Internet service. Virtual counseling should also be Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)-compliant and covered by appropriate data protection and patient privacy laws.
In addition, while the provider will request your contact details for billing and communication, you can opt to stay anonymous and use an alias or nickname.
When to Seek Help From Virtual Therapy Resources
Online counseling may help with numerous conditions, including prolonged grief, anxiety, depression, and diagnosed Alzheimer’s. What’s more, while online therapists cannot make diagnoses, you don’t need to be experiencing a severe mental illness to ask for support – the sooner you start treatment, the better.
Feel free to sign up for counseling when you’re feeling low for an extended time or when you’re experiencing any of the following:
- Headaches and confusion
- A reluctance to leave home or socialize
- Feelings of persistent hopelessness or sadness
- Ongoing worry or a sense of dread
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating
- An unexplained decrease or increase in appetite
- A disruption in sleep patterns – too little or too much sleep
- Recurring irrational or intrusive thoughts
Older people with depression, anxiety, and stress respond particularly well to compassionate and confidential online options. In addition, knowing that virtual therapy providers have helped four in every ten Americans (38%) provides credibility and confidence in this increasingly popular approach.
Choosing the Right Online Therapy Platform
Selecting the best virtual therapy provider involves exploring the platform’s features. This evaluation includes understanding therapist profiles and philosophies and ensuring fees and payment options align with your resources. Also, confirm that the therapy delivery format suits you, that technical support is available, and read user reviews. To help you source a relevant therapist, an informative website offering online mental health counseling platform rankings and reviews in the United States is Counseling Reviews.
At the top of Counseling Reviews list of the best online therapy platforms for seniors is BetterHelp. They refer to the platform as “the best overall online counseling platform offering a wide range of licensed therapists and comprehensive support.”
BetterHelp’s global virtual therapy network scored a rating of 4.9 out of 5, incorporating licensed therapists, personalized services, video, voice, and text sessions, and being confidential and easy to use. Counseling Reviews base their scores on User Engagement scores, staff experience, and weighted TrustPilot ratings.
The international network of over 30,000 qualified and experienced professionals comprises the most extensive 100% online therapy services globally. Wherever you are, whenever and as often as you need it, BetterHelp provides accessible and affordable mental health counseling for seniors.