Pulling Back the Curtain on Mental Health: Part 1
by Traci Graf, RN
Mental illness affects many adults in the US, yet there are obstacles to diagnosis and treatment in the elderly. Patients may hide symptoms in fear of discrimination or shame. Decades of studies have confirmed discrimination against those with mental illness. Federal legislation has attempted to reduce this primarily by tightening confidentiality to obstructive levels. This means that psychiatric records are so protected that even your doctor may not be aware of a diagnosis or medication to treat you, unable to check if it interacts with other medications or if you are having side effects that he or she would recognize if they knew.
What happens when a person has been treated for mental illness without their children being aware? In my home care experience it was common to encounter elderly patients having mental and behavioral problems with no known history of psychiatric treatment. Assisted living facilities tend to use medications created to treat psychosis in low doses for sleep disturbances, yet a patient with schizophrenia needs 3 x’s the amount of the medication to be stabilized. This is a difficult situation when the patient is residing at home. Lack of transportation to appointments can result quickly in a lack of psychiatric care leading to psychosis, hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, forgetfulness, and isolation. Symptoms of dementia can mimic mental illness so seeking appropriate help is important
So what can family members do if they start to see that mom or dad is displaying odd behavior or showing signs of depression or psychosis? Correct diagnosis is integral to getting proper treatment, seeking the help of a psychiatrist or speaking openly to their doctors about what is happening is a good start. If the family member is resistant to seeking professional help there are avenues to pursue. They are lengthy and time consuming, but can result in improvement.
There is hope for these families and patients but it tends to be a complicated path. Remember if a family member is having a medical crisis most would not hesitate to seek help and we need to treat mental illness the same way. Any person who is having a crisis of some kind, whether it be mental or physical deserves proper and effective treatment.