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 is logical, as boomers were born between 1946-64. 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 are the causes of mental health problems in baby boomers 

Some baby boomers have struggled with mental illness their entire lives. However, others may develop new conditions over time. 

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. Boomers, regardless of their age, are experiencing a loss in mobility. Debilitating conditions, or are dealing with the loss of loved ones, it’s not uncommon for them to develop depression in their later years. Parents might also experience depression. Look back at 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. Anxiety disorders can be caused by traumatic events, such as a car accident, social isolation, children growing up, and less frequent visits, or financial worries due to a loss in income. It is not surprising that some boomers suffer from anxiety disorders. 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 Problems with substance abuse 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.  

Boomers may also have to deal with interpersonal issues as their relationships change. 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. Sometimes it is difficult for fathers to understand the changes in their father-daughter relationships and to respond appropriately. 

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 

To ensure your loved one receives the therapy they need, you must convince your mom or father to agree to the promise of therapy. You will need to be direct and confront your loved one about the issue. 

For the best results, Love is the best way to approach the situationAs supportive as possible. 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 to your parents that they talk to a therapist to help them with their issues. 

Nobody has a better understanding of how Mom and Dad might react 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 and try to understand. Once they feel completely understood, the idea for therapy may not seem so absurd anymore. 

Don’t Forget About Your Own Mental Health! 

It can be difficult to deal with parents who are aging. Roles get reversed, health declines, and you’re increasingly tied up with work and kids.  

Keep these things in mind as you try to convince your boomer parent or grandparent to sign up for therapy sessions. Therapy could be beneficial to you. 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 we move forward with the conversation, Start searching 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! 


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