Surroundings Help Shape Mental Health

May will usher in a month of flowers and greenery, and the opportunity to enjoy warmer and sunnier days outdoors in nature.  May is also American Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year’s theme – “Look Around, Look Within” encourages awareness about how our surroundings affect our mental health. 

Where and how we live can have a direct effect on our mental health.  Safe and stable housing, healthy home lives, neighbourhoods, cities and access to natural spaces all influence our emotional, physical and psychological well-being.   In the United States, older adults are among the fastest-growing cohort of unhoused people as a result of successive recessions, rising housing costs, and the lack of a strong social safety net. 

There is help for low-income older adults who do not have the ability to age in place or move in with family members.  Home sharing is becoming increasingly common for older adults who want to age within their communities but could use support from a peer group, opportunities to socialize, as well as the cost savings of splitting housing expenses.  Subsidized housing for older adults is also available through local housing authorities or by calling 211 to learn about options to meet individual housing needs. 

When considering housing options for older adults, it’s important to take into account transportation options and the opportunities to socialize, spend time in nature, and have access to a safe and secure living environment.  Environmental factors can affect our mental health by increasing or reducing stress – creating a clean, calm, uncluttered, safe environment for seniors that provides comfort and familiarity can help protect good mental health.  

The ability to go outdoors regularly for a dose of sunshine and green spaces has also been linked with improved overall well-being.  Being part of a community and feeling valued with a sense of belonging is also essential for good health and quality of life at any age, and especially in older ages past retirement. 

Depression, isolation, and anxiety are not a normal part of aging.  Talk with your healthcare provider if you or a loved one is experiencing persistent symptoms of depression – call 988 or go to your nearest hospital emergency room for immediate help.