Aging and Mental Health

- March 24, 2023
Can the U.S. health system handle the needs of an expanding older population?
Screenshot of elderly woman speaking with therapist, taken on March 17, 2023. (Screenshot/Center for Health Care Strategies)
By 2034, the number of adults aged 65 and older is expected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. Older adults face unique risks for mental illness, including the emotional stress from health disorders more common to older age, the loss of purpose that can accompany retirement and loneliness that can result from the death of friends and family. Yet their rates of mental illness, though significant, are lower than younger cohorts, for reasons that are not entirely clear.

Why are doctors less likely to screen older adults for mental illness, or suggest mental health care?

What are some ways to address the shortage in knowledgeable mental health care professionals to help older adults as more Baby Boomers retire?

1840s–1930sStates build public mental hospitals; overcrowding soon becomes an issue.
1940s–1950sGroundwork is laid for deinstitutionalization of people with mental illness.
1960s–1980sFederal laws empty public mental hospitals, as new drugs revolutionize treatment.
1990s–presentCongress promotes mental health parity in private insurance; Medicare lifts restrictions on telehealth for mental health.

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Max Richtman
President & CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.


Joseph Antos
Wilson H. Taylor Scholar in Health Care and Retirement Policy, American Enterprise Institute.


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