Talking to Your Boomer Parents About Therapy
While the stigma surrounding mental health has dissipated in recent years, many members of society — and the older generation, in particular — are still reluctant to seek out the help they need.
For example, one recent study found that while two out of every three baby boomers live with mental health issues, many brush them off entirely. More specifically, 27 percent don’t tell anyone about their symptoms, and 22 percent believe that these conditions aren’t serious.
This makes perfect sense given that boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964, grew up in a time when mental illness was generally a taboo topic. Many of this generation were raised to think that it was wrong to talk about perceived “weaknesses” and that they should toughen up and deal with these issues internally.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the best approach.
If you’re wondering how to deal with a parent with mental illnesses, you’ve come to the right place. Before we examine what you can do, specifically, to encourage your parents to give therapy a try, let’s take a step back and take a look at some of the major drivers of mental health issues in baby boomers.
What Causes Mental Health Issues in Baby Boomers?
While some baby boomers might have struggled with mental health illnesses their whole lives, others may develop new conditions as time goes on.
Here are some of the most common conditions boomer parents face — as well as some of the reasons why they come to the surface in the first place:
- Depression. Whether boomers are losing their mobility in their older years, have chronic debilitating conditions, or are dealing with the loss of loved ones, it’s not uncommon for them to develop depression in their later years. Similarly, some parents might also look back on their lives and see that they didn’t live up to their potential, made mistakes, or are still angry about something that happened decades ago, and it puts them in a dark place.
- Anxiety. A traumatic event (e.g., a car accident), social isolation (e.g., children growing up and visiting less frequently), or financial concerns that come from a loss of a full-time income can cause some boomers to suffer from anxiety disorders. To this end, it comes as no surprise that one study found that 40 percent of boomers said they were anxious or depressed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Substance abuse. With fewer responsibilities on their plates and more free time on their hands — and perhaps a bit of depression and anxiety thrown into the mix — it follows that some boomers develop substance abuse issues in their later years. Luckily, with therapy and determination, it’s possible to overcome these addictions.
- Dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Research Association, one in eight baby boomers will get Alzheimer’s at some point in their lives, with 1 million individuals being diagnosed with the condition each year. While we’re optimistic our loved ones won’t be impacted directly, the odds that this will happen increase over time.
In addition to these, boomers can also deal with interpersonal struggles as their relationships take on new dynamics. For example, a father’s “little girl” might be 50 all of a sudden, raising a family of her own while also taking care of dad as a member of the sandwich generation. In such a scenario, it can be difficult for some dads to understand how the father-daughter relationship has changed and respond appropriately to the associated developments.
The good news is that — though aging boomer parents might develop mental illnesses — all hope isn’t lost.
If you’re caring for aging parents with mental illness or other issues, here are some tactics you can use to help your parents sit down with a geriatric mental health counselor and get treatment.
How to Deal with a Parent with Mental Illness
Ensuring your loved one gets the help they need to keep their condition in check or even conquer it altogether starts with getting your mom or dad to buy into the promise of therapy. And this means that you will have to be direct with them and confront them on the issue sooner than later.
For the best results, approach the situation with love and be as supportive as you possibly can. At the end of the day, you have to remember that you can’t force anyone to go to therapy if they absolutely don’t want to go — which means it might take some convincing to get boomer parents to finally oblige.
As you begin making your pitch, tell your parents that while you respect their autonomy and everything they’ve done for you over the years, you’re sensing some issues they’re dealing with, and you love them and want to do everything you can to help them live their best lives. Gently suggest that they might want to consider talking to an experienced therapist about their issues a couple times to see whether the experience is worthwhile.
No one has a better idea about how Mom or Dad might react better than you. At this stage in the conversation, you’ll want to be as empathetic as possible, turning on your active listening skills to really see things from their perspective and fully understand the emotions they’re dealing with. Don’t judge them and don’t give them advice. Just listen to understand. Once they feel thoroughly understood, the idea of therapy might not seem so outlandish anymore, and they might agree to check it out.
Don’t Forget About Your Own Mental Health!
Dealing with aging parents is not an easy time. Roles get reversed, health declines, and you’re increasingly tied up with work and kids.
As you begin the process of convincing your boomer parent to sign up for therapy sessions, keep in mind that you yourself might benefit from therapy during this time, too. As an added bonus, you can use the fact that you’re using therapy as another arrow in the quiver for convincing them to give it a shot.
Before moving the conversation forward, start searching for local therapists for you and your parents ahead of time. That way, you’re ready with a recommendation when your parents ultimately agree to try therapy.
Whatever you decide, here’s to getting the treatment you both need to have a fantastic relationship for years to come!
© Copyright 2021 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by GoodTherapy
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.