Older people and mental health


For many people, life really does begin at 60. You’ve got more time for the things you’ve always wanted to do – visit new places, take up hobbies, or see more of friends and family. 

However, some things can seem a bit harder. We start losing people close to us. Friends and family are often far away. Our bodies can slow down a bit, and we might have more health issues to worry about. These changes can increase the risk of anxiety, depression and suicide in older people.

Anxiety and depression are not a weakness of character – they are a health issue just like any other. The good news is that effective treatments are available, and with the right support, you can recover.


Your mental health is important

Your mental health is a major part of your overall wellbeing. If you have good self-esteem and feel confident and able to face life and its challenges, you probably have good mental health.

Being mentally healthy is important, not just so you can get through the day but so you can maintain healthy relationships with others, and appreciate life to the full. So if you feel like your mental health is not as good as it could be, look for support before you reach a crisis point.


Common mental health issues

Many older people may have mental health issues at one point or another. This may be due to:

  • illness
  • grief and loss
  • financial stress
  • changing living arrangements or
  • increasing social isolation. 


Factors that can increase an older person’s risk of developing anxiety or depression include:

  • an increase in physical health problems/conditions e.g. heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease
  • chronic pain
  • side-effects from medications
  • losses: relationships, independence, work and income, self-worth, mobility and flexibility
  • social isolation
  • significant change in living arrangements e.g. moving from living independently to a care setting
  • admission to hospital
  • particular anniversaries and the memories they evoke.


Everyone is different and it’s often a combination of factors that can contribute to a person developing anxiety or depression.


Signs and symptoms of anxiety in older people

The symptoms of anxiety in older people are sometimes not all that obvious as they often develop gradually and, given that we all experience some anxiety at some points in time, it can be hard to know how much is too much. Often older people with anxiety will experience a range of symptoms from the categories below:

  • Behavioural
    • Avoiding objects or situations which cause anxiety
    • Urges to perform certain rituals in a bid to relieve anxiety
    • Not being assertive (i.e. avoiding eye contact)
    • Difficulty making decisions
    • Being startled easily 
  • Feelings
    • Overwhelmed
    • Fear (particularly when facing certain objects, situations or events)
    • Worried about physical symptoms (such as fearing there is an undiagnosed medical problem)
    • Dread (such as fearing that something bad is going to happen)
    • Constantly tense or nervous
    • Uncontrollable or overwhelming panic 
  • Thoughts
    • I’m going crazy.”
    • I can’t control myself.”
    • I’m about to die.”
    • People are judging me.”
    • Having upsetting dreams or flashbacks of a traumatic event
    • Finding it hard to stop worrying, unwanted or intrusive thoughts 
  • Physical symptoms
    • Increased heart rate/ racing heart
    • Vomiting, nausea or pain in the stomach
    • Muscle tension and pain
    • Feeling detached from your physical self or surroundings
    • Having trouble sleeping
    • Sweating, shaking
    • Dizzy, lightheaded or faint
    • Numbness or tingling
    • Hot or cold flushes


Signs and symptoms of depression in older people

An older person may be depressed if, for more than two weeks, he or she has felt sad, down or miserable most of the time or has lost interest or pleasure in most of his or her usual activities, and similar to anxiety, has experienced several of the signs and symptoms across at least three of the categories below.

It’s important to note that everyone experiences some of these symptoms from time to time and it may not necessarily mean that the person is depressed. Equally, not every person who is experiencing depression will have all of these symptoms.

Older people with depression tend to present with more symptoms from the physical category compared to the other categories. So an older person is more likely to present to their GP with various physical complaints and difficulty sleeping rather than complaints of sadness or low mood.

Different language may also be used when older people refer to their depression. Instead of describing ‘sadness’, for example, they may talk about ‘their nerves’.

  • Behaviours
    • General slowing down or restlessness
    • Neglect of responsibilities and self-care
    • Withdrawing from family and friends
    • Decline in day-to-day ability to function, being confused, worried and agitated
    • Inability to find pleasure in any activity
    • Difficulty getting motivated in the morning
    • Behaving out of character
    • Denial of depressive feelings as a defence mechanism 
  • Thoughts
    • Indecisiveness
    • Loss of self-esteem
    • Persistent suicidal thoughts
    • Negative comments like ‘I’m a failure, ‘It’s my fault’ or ‘Life is not worth living’
    • Excessive concerns about financial situation
    • Perceived change of status within the family 
  • Feelings
    • Moodiness or irritability, which may present as angry or aggressive
    • Sadness, hopelessness or emptiness
    • Overwhelmed
    • Feeling worthless or guilty 
  • Physical symptoms
    • Sleeping more or less than usual
    • Feeling tired all the time
    • Slowed movement
    • Memory problems
    • Unexplained headaches, backache, pain or similar complaints
    • Digestive upsets, nausea, changes in bowel habits
    • Agitation, hand wringing, pacing
    • Loss or change of appetite
    • Significant weight loss (or gain)



Improving your wellbeing

There are plenty of things you can do to improve your mental health and wellbeing. These include:

  • eating well
  • getting enough sleep
  • exercising regularly
  • spending time with friends and family
  • sharing feelings with others
  • doing enjoyable and relaxing activities
  • volunteering and helping others.



Getting older brings its share of challenges, and you may find it difficult to stay mentally healthy and strong at times. If feelings like sadness or worry are preventing you from getting the most out of life, help and support is available for seniors with mental health issues.

(article information sourced Beyond Blue, Blackdog Institute and Mind Health Connect)


At Lifepath Psychology, our psychologists have experience working with older clients in conjunction with their referring GP to tackle issues such as coping with:

  • retirement
  • memory changes
  • physical changes
  • illness
  • grief and loss
  • financial stress
  • change in living arrangements
  • increased social isolation


We can assist with, depending on client requirements:

  • Stress release
  • Increasing confidence, energy and motivation
  • Improving concentration and memory
  • Reducing the incident and/or escalation of mental health issues


Any clients referred under a Mental Health Care Plan, and on a Pension or Department of Veteran Affair Card, are Bulk Billed at Lifepath Psychology.



Do you think you may be suffering from depression or anxiety?

If you feel you may have anxiety or depression, seek the advice of an experienced mental health professional. Visit your GP and discuss your concerns, book a longer appointment so there is time to explain your issues and how you are feeling.

Your GP may write a referral to a psychologist, which may entitle you to access Medicare rebates under the Federal Governments Better Access to Mental Health Care Rebate Scheme.

Remember your Doctor and psychologist are there to help, and will not judge.

If you would like to see a psychologist at Lifepath Psychology just ask your GP to write a referral letter, and attach your Mental Healthcare Plan. You will need to bring this referral letter and Mental healthcare Plan with you to your first appointment to receive the Medicare rebate.

To book an appointment at Lifepath Psychology, or request further information about our services, please feel free to email your query to admin@lifepathpsychology.com.au or call 6496 0039 and one of our friendly staff will more than happy to assist.