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Monday, December 21, 2020

Anxiety Is on the Rise

The pandemic has brought death, illness, job loss, and job insecurity. Not surprisingly, older adults are more anxious and worried.

Everyone seems to be more stressed out these days as we continue to be impacted by social distancing and the economic fallout of the coronavirus. Health care workers and those in the restaurant and tourism industries have been hit particularly hard, but older adults account for some grim statistics of their own.

Older Adults at Risk

Close to half (46%) of older adults in a July survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) said that worry and stress related to COVID-19 was having a negative effect on their mental health, up from 31% in May. These numbers don’t include older adults in care facilities, where isolation (and the risk of infection and death) are even higher. It’s well documented through numerous studies that loneliness among older adults leads to an elevated risk of premature death, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety and suicide.

The same survey found higher rates of anxiety and depression among the following groups:

  • Those who live alone (27%)
  • Women (28%)
  • Hispanics (33%)
  • Those with annual income under $25,000 (37%)
  • Those with self-reported fair or poor health (48%)

Notably, women, Hispanics and people with worse health all tend to fall into lower income categories, and of course those who live alone would be likely to have less income per household than a couple, who might at least have two Social Security checks coming in. 

Deaths of Despair

Perhaps surprisingly, although older adults account for 80% of all COVID-related deaths, they are less anxious than any other age group surveyed. This may be because retirees don’t have added fears around job loss and child care. However, bereavement is likely to be higher among older adults. 

The United Nations warns about a shadow pandemic of “deaths of despair.” In the United States, estimates show an additional 75,000 people will die due to drug and alcohol misuse, or by suicide, from effects of the virus on mental health. 

"Undeniably, policymakers must place a large focus on mitigating the effects of COVID," says Benjamin F. Miller, chief strategy officer of the Well Being Trust. “However, if the country continues to ignore the collateral damage — specifically our nation's mental health — we will not come out of this stronger.”

Signs of Stress

Although anxiety, stress and declining mental health will affect people in different ways, these are some common symptoms:

  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increase in fear and worry about yourself or others
  • Increase in tobacco, alcohol and/or drug use
  • Increase in sadness, anger or inability to control temper

Getting Help

Fortunately, assistance is available so you don’t have to go it alone. Here are some ways you can help ward off stress:

  • Take care of your body. Stretch, meditate, close your eyes and take deep breaths. Eat healthy meals, exercise daily, and get plenty of sleep. Meditation apps such as Calm can help you relax.
  • Connect with other people. Call or FaceTime with other people to chat. 
  • Take breaks from the news, including social media. 
  • Make time to unwind. Take a walk, garden, read a book or enjoy a hot bath.
  • Connect with faith- or community-based organizations such as a church, senior center or synagogue. This may need to be online or by phone to keep socially distanced.

The good news about Medicare is that cost-sharing for mental health is finally on the same footing as that for general medical outpatient services under Part B. However, it may still be unaffordable for some. If you have traditional Medicare without supplemental coverage, or if your Medicare Advantage plan requires cost-sharing for mental health services, then low-income adults may worry about cost. 

On top of cost, it may be nearly impossible to find a provider. Psychiatrists, in particular, may limit the number of patients with Medicare or opt out entirely because they are reimbursed at a lower rate than for clients with private insurance. If you have traditional Medicare, go here for information about mental health coverage, including for low-income adults. People with Medicare Advantage plans should call their insurer for details about their plan. Fortunately, changes have been made to Medicare as a result of the pandemic. Traditional Medicare will cover Telehealth services, including for mental health. 

You can also contact:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255 or chat online
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline 1-800-726-4727 or here for information about where to find mental health services in your area

Times are hard, but the pandemic won’t last forever. We can all help by calling friends and family to chat and listen. Mental health issues are not a sign of weakness, any more than cancer is. Both are diseases that can be treated. Reaching out to get help, or give help, will make all of us stronger in the long run.

Click below for the other articles in the December 2020 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors