Each stage of your life can create different challenges to good mental health. The events that worry you as a 20-year-old probably won't be the same as what causes you stress when you're 50. Eating right, staying physically active, getting enough sleep, and having healthy relationships will help support good physical and mental health throughout life. If you're worried about your mental health, talk to someone right away.
Researchers think that most mental health conditions begin early in life, usually by 25 years old. Mental health conditions are common in young people, but some conditions are more serious or last longer than others. A recent survey showed that almost one in three young women 18 to 25 said they had a mental health condition in the past year. One in about every 10 young women has a serious mental health condition that impacts daily activities such as working or going to school.
In your early 20s, you may be dealing with stressful life situations such as finding a job or finishing college, moving out of a family home, and becoming financially independent. This can be a stressful time for anyone. It can be more difficult to handle these life changes if you have a mental health condition. Also, if you have lived with a mental health condition for most of your life, it can be difficult to know that you have a health problem that can be treated.
What you can do:
- Protect your mental health by knowing the signs of a mental health condition.
- Get help. If you feel hopeless or your thoughts or actions feel out of control, get help. You could have a mental health condition that can be treated with medicine or counseling.
- Talk to a mental health professional. Treatment works, and the earlier you get treatment, the better it works.
- Start building healthy habits now.
In your 30s and 40s, you may be building a career, raising a family, or juggling many different responsibilities all at the same time. These changes can be exhausting and stressful and make it difficult to maintain good mental health. Your menstrual cycle or pregnancy can also affect your mental well-being, from mood swings during your period or pregnancy to problems getting pregnant. Learn more about reproductive health and mental health.
Perimenopause, the transition to menopause, often begins in your late 40s. Perimenopause can cause sudden hormonal ups and downs that can affect your physical and mental health.
What you can do:
- Don’t forget about your own health. During your annual health checkup, often called a “well-woman visit,” talk to your doctor or nurse about your mental health and well-being.
- Follow your doctor’s advice. If you’ve already been diagnosed with a mental health condition, follow your doctor’s advice about any medicines and steps you can take at home to feel better.
- Develop healthy habits. Eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, and staying connected with others can make it easier to deal with many of the stresses of your 30s and 40s. Having healthy habits can make it easier to find the energy to get help for mental health conditions.
In your early 50s, you will probably experience menopause, which can affect mental health or stress levels. If you are in a romantic relationship, you may find that expectations and roles have changed over the years. By your 60s, you may be facing retirement or dealing with a chronic illness. You may also find yourself suddenly in an emptier house if you have children who have moved out, or you might be a caretaker for an elderly parent. Such major life changes can have emotional and even physical effects.
What you can do:
- Treat menopause symptoms. Talk to your doctor about relief for menopause symptoms if they are uncomfortable or add stress to your life. Changing hormone levels during menopause and perimenopause can also affect your emotions. Learn more about how menopause affects your mental health.
- Prioritize your own health. If you are a caregiver, try to be aware of your own stress levels and physical needs. You can also find help through a local support group, hospital services, or other community resources. Learn more about caregiver stress.
- Stay active. If you are retired, keep your mind and body active. Retirement is an opportunity to spend time doing things you never had time for, such as learning a new skill or hobby, volunteering, or seeing friends and family more often. But being without a regular job and co-workers you see every day can also feel lonely.
- Try something new. If you have “empty nest syndrome” — a phrase parents often use for the feelings of sadness or loneliness they experience when their children move out of the house — try something new. Volunteer, join a club, play a sport, or make a list of places to visit or things you’ve always wanted to do.
- Stay in touch. Reach out to someone if you’re having trouble coping with the physical or emotional effects of aging. Lean on friends or loved ones, or make time to talk to a mental health professional. You are not alone.
Your 70s and beyond can be a time of enjoying retirement, starting new hobbies, and seeing friends and family more often. It can also be the time when many people are diagnosed with serious health problems, such as heart disease or cancer. Sometimes, you’re dealing with the death of a loved one. People in their 70s and beyond may also face tough financial situations due to medical bills or running out of retirement savings.
Older adults who have serious physical conditions are more likely to develop depression. About one in eight older women said they had a mental health condition in the past year. Adults over 65 also may have more trouble sleeping, which can make mental health conditions worse.
Although these challenges can be stressful and upsetting, there are tools you can use to help achieve good mental health in your 70s and beyond.
What you can do:
- Maintain strong relationships. Older adults can be more isolated from their friends, family, and community. Having a strong social network of close family and friends can help your mental and even physical health.
- Give something back. Research shows that volunteering your time and talents to benefit others can help you feel more connected and lower your stress levels.
- Eat well. Older women need just as many nutrients as younger women but may need fewer calories for energy. To get a personalized calorie recommendation, use the MyPlate Plan tool. Talk to your doctor about whether you might need to take supplements.
- Be active. Physical activity can help your bones, heart, and mood. Ask your doctor about what activities are right for you. Most adults need to get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic physical activity or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or some combination of the two. Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Most adults also need two days of strengthening activities to keep bones and muscles healthy. Learn more about physical activity for older adults.
- Use the resources in your community. As you get older, it can be difficult to face a loss of independence like driving or living in your own home. Learn about the free and low-cost resources in your community that can allow you to maintain independence in older age. The Administration on Aging and your local Agency on Aging are good places to start.
These tips can help you maintain your physical health as well as mental health. Learn the signs of a mental health condition, and talk to your doctor or nurse about your mental health.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics. (2017). Health, United States, 2016: With Chartbook on Long-term Trends in Health. Hyattsville, MD.
- Kessler, R.C., Amminger, G.P., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Alonso, J., Lee, S., Ustun, T.B. (2007). Age of onset of mental disorders: A review of recent literature. Current Opinion in Psychiatry; 20(4): 359–364.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2018). 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Table 8.2B (PDF, 36.1 MB).
- SAMHSA Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2018). 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Table 8.4B (PDF, 36.1 MB).
- American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Growing Mental and Behavioral Health Concerns Facing Older Americans.
- SAMHSA Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2018). 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Table 8.1B (PDF, 36.1 MB).
- Raposa, E.B., Laws, H.B., Ansell, E.B. (2016). Prosocial Behavior Mitigates the Negative Effects of Stress in Everyday Life. Clinical Psychological Science; 4(4): 691–698.
Content last updated March 25, 2019