Have your birthday cake and enjoy it too

Apr 25, 2024Courtney Morris
Birthday candles

Adding another candle to your birthday cake this year?

Some things, like growing older, are inevitable. Others, like declining mental health, are preventable.

According to licensed clinical social worker Tara Bates, aging comes with its share of physical challenges and transitions. But you can still maintain mental well-being with good support and coping strategies.

Bates, who teaches in San Jacinto College’s mental health services program, shares these tips to boost your mental health. Say hello to a brighter birthday cake and stronger you!

San Jacinto College mental health adjunct instructor
Tara Bates
Q: What are the best ways to maintain good mental health?

A: Take a well-rounded approach: Stay socially connected, engage in regular physical activity, and practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Also, find purpose and meaning in daily activities, and seek support from friends, family, or mental health professionals.

In addition, you can find self-help books, TED Talks, and podcasts that focus on bettering yourself.

Q: Are physical and mental well-being connected in the aging process?

A: Physical health and mental well-being are deeply interconnected. Even if you’re facing health conditions that cause pain, limit mobility, or lead to feelings of isolation, you can maintain mental well-being through activities like social engagement, cognitive stimulation (brain games, conversations, and puzzles), and stress management. These can influence physical health outcomes and overall quality of life.

Q: How does pursuing lifelong learning or new hobbies contribute to mental health?

A: It provides mental stimulation, fosters a sense of accomplishment, increases social connections, and promotes a positive outlook on life. Learning new skills or exploring new interests can also help you maintain cognitive function and adapt to life changes. Trying new things sparks creativity and reminds you that you can continue to grow. (Check out San Jac's lifelong learning programs.)

Q: How important are relationships?

A: Meaningful connections can combat feelings of isolation, provide emotional support during life transitions, and offer opportunities for shared experiences and joy.

You can create meaningful connections by joining a senior center, volunteering in the community, participating in group activities or classes, and staying in touch with family and friends regularly. If mobility or transportation is an issue, you can find a virtual group where people get together and spend time with each other using their computer or phone.

Q: When should I seek professional help? What free or low-cost services are available to me?

A: Seek help if you experience persistent symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues that interfere with your daily functioning and quality of life. Many community mental health centers, non-profit organizations, and online platforms offer free or low-cost mental health services tailored to older adults. Most cities have federally qualified health centers that offer free or low-cost mental health services.

If you have insurance, the phone number on the back of your insurance card is a great place to start. Most insurance companies encourage members to seek mental health care because it is a preventive measure and can shorten or eliminate hospital stays.

Q: Will others judge me for seeking mental health support?

A: Although attitudes toward mental health are slowly improving, social stigma surrounding mental health concerns still exists, particularly among older adults. But seeking help is becoming more normalized and encouraged in many communities.

Prioritize your mental well-being and seek support when needed. If you tell your family you are getting help, you will set a precedent for them to get help too.

Q: Anything else I should know?

A: Mental health is not limited to a doctor or therapist. Boost your mental health by practicing gratitude, being helpful, starting a part-time job, and allowing others to count on you. There is such power when you focus your time and energy on a person, animal, or organization you care about.

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