Members of the National Coalition on Mental Health and Aging and other mental health and aging advocates attended a listening session at APA headquarters in January to help steer the agenda of the October 23-26 meeting of the White House Council on Aging (WHCoA) in Washington, D.C.
WHCoA's 17 policy committee members and 1,200 delegates meet decennially to formulate policy recommendations to the president and Congress that promote the health, independence and economic security of current and future generations of older adults. In February, WHCoA expanded its agenda to include mental health.
"Holding the listening session was the first step to getting mental health onto the agenda and in the running to be one of the conference's policy recommendations," says Deborah DiGilio, APA's aging issues officer.
Throughout the panelists' testimony, the interrelation of mental and physical health was a common thread. Norman Anderson, PhD, APA CEO, summed up the issue as he opened the meeting.
"Research clearly indicates that psychological, emotional, cognitive and behavioral factors are pivotal components of the health and well-being of older adults," said Anderson, noting the mind-body interplay in heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer and a host of other diseases affecting many older Americans.
Panelists underscored a number of other points:
Older adults have the highest suicide rate of any age group, with people 85 and older taking their own lives at double the rate of the general population, according to the U.S. Public Health Service, noted Mildred M. Reynolds, EdD, National Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance board member.
A disparity persists in Medicare reimbursement for physical and mental health, pointed out Willard Mays, director of the National Association of State Mental Health Programs. He noted that Medicare typically covers 80 percent of physical ailments and only 20 percent of mental health needs.
Research on older adults' mental disorders has been too narrowly focused and needs to broaden, said APA Fellow Margaret Gatz, PhD.
"Research has primarily focused on depressive [and] anxiety disorders," she said. "More research is needed that encompasses the entire range of mental disorders experienced by older adults--that includes the oldest old, ethnically diverse older adults and those with comorbid physical conditions."