The issue of mental health has long been a taboo subject and only recently has society at large started to embrace the fact that depression, loneliness and other conditions are real, serious and treatable medical afflictions that affect a large number of people. It is estimated that almost 10% of seniors in Canada living in the community will experience a depressive disorder that is serious enough to require treatment. Support for Seniors and the Community to Better Independent Living

1. Be Active

A healthy mind usually includes having a healthy body. According to the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, recent research has found that moderate exercise, specifically weight training, to be as effective in treating mild depression as medication. Strengthening muscles, joints and bones also helps improve balance and decrease the chance of falls and immobility, which can lead to mental health issues. Exercise also builds social ties. Joining a walking or running club, going golfing with friends or taking a fitness class gives seniors an opportunity to get out of the house and see friends, both old and new. It’s also important to also keep your brain active as you age by doing activities that exercise your mind, such as playing chess, bridge, doing crossword puzzles or taking an adult education course.

2. Listen to Music

Music has always had a uniquely positive effect on people, no matter your age, which is why it is a perfect way to combat mental illness or feelings of depression, deep sadness or loneliness. Studies have shown that music can sooth anxious nerves and lift spirits by tapping into the rewards centre in the brain, which releases hormones like dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin into the body. These hormones help people feel good, trust people and can help us sleep, all important things to have when trying to improve your mental health. Older adults can always add some music into their lives by playing their favourites around the house, listening to portable music devices, such as an iPod, when travelling, joining a local choir or musical group or visiting local musical performances, such as the symphony. Fortunately, we have made a lot of progress in the area of mental health and while there is a ways to go, there are more and more resources available every day to those suffering from mental health issues. We’ve put together five ways seniors can improve their mental health and avoid loneliness, isolation and depression.

3. Nurture Positivity

While achieving and maintaining a positive state of mind is easier said than done, there are activities seniors can do to build positive experiences and foster the ones that are already present in their lives. Being thankful is a cornerstone of emotional and mental well-being. Keep a journal of the things you have to be thankful for. Try jotting down three good experiences or things you are grateful for from that day and three more from your life in general. Make small, measurable goals and reward yourself when you achieve them. Try new things and make sure to spend time with positive people. Spend time with a cheerful family member, friend or even take some time to watch an inspiring movie or an inspirational talk on YouTube.

4. Get Social

The number one cause of mental illness in seniors is loneliness and isolation. In fact, feeling isolated can be as detrimental to an older adult’s health as smoking 10 cigarettes a day. Staying social can take work for seniors as they may be far from family, have limited mobility and be missing a spouse. It’s important to make an effort and embrace the many opportunities available for seniors to be social. One way to meet more people is to volunteer. It’s also one way to achieve something, take part in something you’re passionate about and nurture positivity. Invite people to your house, call a friend or learn how to use technology such as Skype to connect with family members who are may be far away. You can also be a pen pal, adopt a pet, start a hobby or simply read or write at a local coffee shop instead of at home.

5. Reach Out

The most important way for older adults to improve their mental health and combat conditions such as depression is to reach out and get help. The measures outlined above are great ways to incorporate better mental health into your everyday life, but if you are feeling deep sadness, loneliness or depression, it’s crucial that you talk to a medical professional so you can create a plan to feel better. The most important thing to know is that you are not alone and that your feelings are real and legitimate. Talk to friends, family, caregivers, your doctor or anyone you trust and work together to improve your mental health. Even if you are not feeling in poor health at the moment, it’s important to take preventative measures to ensure your mental health remains good. You can even contact CANES for mental health services or for advice and resources on where you can go to find out more about mental health services and activities for seniors.