What New Findings About Senior Mental Health Choices Mean for the Senior Care Industry

Gregg Ratkovic

Gregg Ratkovic, chief sales officer, eHealth

Mental health is an essential element of ensuring a senior’s overall health and wellbeing, but historically, it’s been a somewhat taboo topic. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking a tremendous toll on mental health, understanding how seniors feel about their mental health care is more important than ever.

It’s that desire to better understand how seniors feel about and access mental health services that prompted eHealth to release their new report, Seniors Speak Out on Mental Health. Based on more than 3,800 survey responses from eHealth Medicare customers age 65 and older, the report reveals intriguing findings that the senior care industry can learn from and use to improve senior care, particularly when it comes to mental health services and their accessibility.

The Importance of Understanding Senior Mental Health

Gregg Ratkovic, chief sales officer at eHealth, explains that the mental health effects of the pandemic were partially behind the idea to conduct this survey. “With the COVID-19 pandemic in mind, it’s clear our mental health as a society has been greatly impacted by the stressors of the last two years,” he says. “And, in fact, we saw a fresh emphasis on the prioritization of mental health, particularly for school aged children and those in the workforce. However, we saw that one of the most vulnerable and isolated groups – seniors – had nearly been left out of the conversation around mental health.”

That prompted several questions:

  • How do seniors feel about their mental health both personally and as a general topic of discussion?
  • And how many seniors are aware of the mental health benefits they are eligible to receive through Medicare?

“We decided to seek out answers directly from the senior population we serve,” says Ratkovic.

Key Findings from the Mental Health Choices & Voices Report

The report includes several key findings that are valuable to senior care settings. Forty-eight percent of seniors described themselves as “very willing” to seek out mental health care when they need it, compared to 35% two years ago. “I think it’s clear that COVID has made seniors more open to mental health care,” says Ratkovic. “Today, 9 in 10 seniors report they are not embarrassed to discuss their own mental health. It’s great to see that the sentiment toward mental health prioritization is moving in such a positive direction.”

But the report also revealed that 61% of Medicare beneficiary seniors did not realize that mental health services are covered by Medicare. “While social stigma was not a major factor keeping them away from mental health care today, they told us that the cost of care and a lack of understanding of their benefits are real roadblocks,” Ratkovic explains. “Unfortunately, confusion around their insurance benefits can stand in the way of care for any beneficiary, no matter their age.”

He adds that the conversations surrounding mental health may play a key role in how seniors approach and think about mental health. “Today’s younger generations are lucky to have grown up in a world where mental health is a more regular topic of conversation,” he explains. “That wasn’t always the case for older generations. Our findings show that the historical stigma associated with mental health care is waning, but 1 in 4 still report they’re less likely to discuss mental health with their doctor compared to other medical issues.

“Additionally, navigating health insurance benefits can be daunting, deterring many from seeking mental health care, along with other forms of care. This is true not just for older generations, but for many of us. I think it’s fair to say that, overall, government agencies and the health insurance industry at large could do better at educating consumers – and seniors especially – about their mental health benefits and how to use them.”

Lessons for Senior Care Organizations

Ratkovic notes that senior care organizations can play an essential role in helping to continue to break down the stigma around mental health. “Providing mental health services within senior communities and senior care facilities is a step in the right direction,” he says.

“Especially in the wake of the pandemic, it’s important to provide information around resources for mental health care and education around Medicare’s mental health care coverage options. Setting up regular sessions to walk seniors individually through their benefits, could be a good idea. Pointing seniors toward Medicare resources and insurance experts can also be key to creating a dialog around the topic.”

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