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Seniors’ Mental Health

GET LOUD to maintain positive mental health. GET LOUD to get it back.

Getting loud means speaking up to stop the discrimination and the stigma that often go hand in hand with mental illness. It means using your voice to raise awareness and build support. For someone at home. For someone at work. For yourself.



Mental Health Week is a time for CMHA to raise awareness about the mental health issues of Canadians. Every year, we choose a group to focus on—to highlight the particular concerns of that group.

This year, let’s GET LOUD about the mental health of seniors—the fastest-growing age group in Canada.

Men over the age of 80 are the group with the highest suicide rate in Canada.

Mental health problems after 65.

Currently, one in four Canadian seniors has a mental health issue. And there is growing evidence that the incidence of mental illness is increasing in older adults.

Older people can also have problems related to substance use, particularly tobacco and alcohol. Overuse and misuse of prescription medications can pose problems as well.

Mental health problems in seniors include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • dementia
  • experiences of psychosis
  • other kinds of distress

Seniors are vulnerable and undertreated.
Seniors are at risk for mental illness and addictions. Some seniors already have a mental health issue from earlier in life. Others have a mental health problem such as depression that developed later in life. Perhaps they have lost a loved one or suffered a stroke. Seniors are often undertreated for mental health problems. Reasons may include:

  • Symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions: Many seniors have multiple health problems. It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between signs of physical and mental illness. Also, symptoms of mental illness may look different in older adults.
  • Discrimination and stigma: Some people are unwilling to ask for help for fear of what others may think and how they may be treated. There are still many negative and mistaken attitudes around mental illness that fuel discrimination and stigma—and make it harder to reach out for help.
  • Believing it is too late in life to make changes: Seniors, family members and others can believe it is too late to do anything about poor mental and physical health in older age. It is never too late!
  • Physical and financial challenges: Getting to treatment can be a challenge for many older people with mobility issues. So is the cost of treatment. Not all mental health services are publicly funded. Seniors who don’t have private insurance may not be able to pay for services that aren’t covered.
  • Service availability: Everyone’s treatment needs are different, and sometimes the right services and community supports aren’t available when people need them.

Depression is the most common mental health problem for older adults

If you are a senior with a mental health issue, there are treatment options and strategies that can help:

  • Talk to your family doctor: They can be a great resource, and can link you to other professionals, if needed. If you are in distress, go to the nearest hospital Emergency Department, call 911 or contact a crisis line.
  • Talk with supportive friends and family: Share your feelings with them. Explain what you need and let them help you. Loved ones can offer both emotional and practical support—like scheduling appointments or finding services. They may observe early changes in a senior’s well-being, including setbacks and improvements.
  • Connect with others who have personal experience with a mental health problem: Learn more about their recovery journey.


Maintaining positive mental health is important for all of us. Some everyday tips:

  • Eat healthy foods, be active and get enough sleep
  • Build strong support networks— make plans with friends, visit a neighbour
  • Get involved—volunteer or join a club
  • Build resilience and healthy self-esteem

For more mental health tips, read CMHA’s Mental Health for Life brochure at


In addition to the support of family and friends, here are other sources of information and inspiration that can help:

  • Websites of reputable mental health organizations such as CMHA
  • Books about specific mental health problems
  • Online resources
  • Courses and workshops offered through community centres, schools and universities
  • People you admire for their ability to find balance

How CMHA can help.

Every year, CMHA’s remarkable cross-Canada team of more than 10,000 staff and volunteers provides more than half a million Canadians with vital services and  support.

Contact your local CMHA, or other community mental health organization, to learn more about support and resources in your area.

For more information on mental health programs and services in your community or to donate to CMHA, visit our websites: and

Founded in 1918, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is a national charity that helps maintain and improve mental health for all Canadians. As the nation-wide leader and champion for mental health, CMHA helps people access the community resources they need to build resilience and support their recovery from mental illness


The BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information (2008). Backgrounder (Seniors). Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health (CCSMH)
Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario. Focus on Seniors (2009) and Mental Health and Addictions Issues for Older Adults (2010).
Canadian Mental Health Association (2014). Getting Help, and Mental Health for Life.
Employment and Social Development Canada, iowb/.3ndic.1t.4r@-eng.jsp?iid=33
Mental Health Commission of Canada (2011). Guidelines for Comprehensive Mental Health Services for Older Adults in Canada, and health-commission-of-canada-releases-guidelines-for-comprehensive-mental-health-services- for-older-adults-in-canada-508867991.html
Mood Disorders Society of Canada (2009). Quick Facts: Mental Illness and Addiction in Canada. 3rd Edition.