Managing Mental Health in Nursing Homes

Nursing home residents can suffer from serious mental health problems like depression, anxiety, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Thankfully, residents and their loved ones can take steps to care for their mental health while in a nursing home. Learn how to manage mental health in nursing homes below.

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Reviewed by Julie Rivers, MBA , Eldercare Advocate & Expert

Why Is Managing Mental Health in a Nursing Home Important?

From adjusting to life in a long-term care facility to dealing with conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia, maintaining good mental health can be tricky for nursing home residents.

According to a study from the American Geriatrics Society (AGS), between 65% and 90% of nursing home residents have a mental or behavioral health problem.

elderly woman looking outside window

Even worse, some elders may fall victim to nursing home abuse — and it might not always leave physical marks. Emotional or verbal abuse can lead to long-term health issues like anxiety and depression.

Thankfully, nursing home residents and their loved ones can take steps to nurture their mental health. Many nursing homes have access to psychologists and mental health resources so older adults can get the support they need.

Further, older adults and their families can pursue financial compensation through a lawsuit if emotional abuse causes serious harm. A lawsuit can also hold the abusive or neglectful nursing home responsible for its actions.

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Mental Health Resources & Advocates for Nursing Home Patients

Nursing home residents have access to a variety of mental health services. Even if a facility doesn’t have on-staff mental health professionals, residents can get the help they need elsewhere.

Learn about common mental health resources available to nursing home residents below.

Psychological Services in Nursing Homes

Psychologists and psychiatrists can help nursing home residents manage their mental health with in-person, over-the-phone, or online visits.

By connecting with a mental health professional, residents can learn to more effectively cope with their emotions and work through trauma. Psychiatrists (and some psychologists) can also prescribe patients with medications to manage mental health issues.

Further, psychologists and psychiatrists can assist nursing home staff members. They’ll listen to staff concerns and recommend ways to manage stress.

Nursing Home Ombudsmen

Nursing home ombudsmen serve as advocates for residents and work to resolve any issues or concerns they have. This can range from complaints about food quality to allegations of nursing home abuse or neglect.

Reach out to a nursing home ombudsman if you believe a nursing home is not providing proper mental health care to a resident. They can help you take action to keep the resident safe.

Social Workers

Social workers combine the abilities of psychologists and nursing home ombudsmen, so they can assist nursing home residents in many ways.

Social workers can perform basic psychological counseling and can connect nursing home residents with more mental health resources within the community if needed. However, they cannot prescribe medications to nursing home residents like psychiatrists can.

“Social workers shall have a basic understanding of the missions and functions of other relevant professions and organizations that promote resident health, mental health, and well-being.”

— National Association of Social Workers

Social workers can also provide resources and advice to family members responsible for the health care decisions of mentally impaired residents.


Medications can manage conditions like anxiety and depression or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Commonly used medications for nursing home residents include:

  • Celexa (for depression and anxiety)
  • Donepezil (for Alzheimer’s and dementia)
  • Exelon (for Alzheimer’s and dementia)
  • Zoloft (for depression and anxiety)

It’s important that staff members properly administer these medications to avoid serious side effects. A nursing home ombudsman can ensure that medications are properly given.

What Causes Mental Health Problems Among Nursing Home Residents?

Nursing home residents can suffer from mental health problems due to a variety of reasons. While some conditions, like Alzheimer’s, stem from natural causes, others may be preventable with proper care.

elderly male looking outside window

Learn about issues that can impact mental health in nursing homes and how to avoid them below.

Emotional Abuse

Some nursing home residents enter long-term care facilities without any mental health problems, only to develop them later due to cases of emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse in nursing homes can take many forms. It can be committed by other nursing home residents and staff members.

Examples of emotional nursing home abuse include:

  • Belittling a resident
  • Ignoring a resident’s concerns or requests for help
  • Threatening a resident with violence
  • Yelling at a resident

Elders that suffer from emotional abuse can develop severe mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Thankfully, it may be possible to avoid long-term complications by reporting nursing home abuse early on.

Call (800) 896-7040 today to report nursing home abuse and pursue justice.

Old Age

The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that 15% of people over the age of 60 suffer from a mental health condition.

Aging can bring stressful changes that put older adults at risk of mental health issues. This includes illnesses, the death of a spouse or loved ones, and adjusting to life in a nursing home. The WHO also found that stress is more common among older adults.

Thankfully, seniors can cope by addressing common signs of stress before they worsen. These signs can include changes in mood, diet, or sleep, forgetfulness, or having less energy than normal.

Poor Lifestyle

Lifestyle factors can also affect an older person’s mental health. For example, those who smoked cigarettes or heavily drank alcohol are at a greater risk of dementia later in life, according to the Stanford Health Care clinic.

Other poor lifestyle factors include:

  • Lack of physical activity
  • Obesity
  • Poor diet

Lifestyle changes may be able to ease symptoms, depending on the condition. A 2020 study found that an increase of physical activity reduced symptoms of depression in older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Older adults can often feel isolated while living in a nursing home. This puts them at a higher risk of loneliness, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and other issues.

Seniors who are isolated can also suffer from emotional abuse or other kinds of harm by staff without their family knowing.

Lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic isolated many nursing home residents from interacting with loved ones. Though the lockdowns were needed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, it put many residents at risk of severe loneliness and mental health problems.

“The mental health consequences of this pandemic on those who live and have loved ones in nursing facilities are profound.”

— Eleanor Feldman Barbera, nursing home psychologist

To reduce the risks of isolation, family members should check on nursing home residents as often as possible. Over-the-phone or virtual visits can be a good substitute if visiting in person isn’t possible.

Medication Errors

Improperly using medications for anxiety, depression, dementia, or other conditions can actually worsen a senior’s mental health. Nursing home staff members may overmedicate a resident who they believe is difficult to deal with, or they may simply forget to give medications at the proper time.

“Potentially inappropriate medications (PIMs) continue to be prescribed and used as first-line treatment for the most vulnerable of older adults, despite evidence of poor outcomes from their use.”

— American Psychological Association

Families can reduce the risk of medication errors by ensuring their loved one is in a high-quality nursing home. Make sure all nursing home staff members have been properly trained to give medications.

Seniors or their loved ones can also reach out to an ombudsman to make sure medications are being properly given if concerns arise.

Common Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Care Facilities

Nursing home residents can suffer from many mental health issues. They may even suffer from several mental health problems at once.

Mental health problems among residents include:

Various studies have found that anywhere from 20% to almost 50% of nursing home residents suffer from depression, according to McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Common symptoms of depression include negative changes in mood, behavior, or sleep. Older adults may also suffer from concentration problems, confusion, and restlessness.

While depression is a serious condition, it is treatable. Older adults can connect with a psychologist or social worker to start treatments. Medications can also be used alongside therapy.

Nursing home residents may suffer from anxiety if they are put into stressful situations. This can include suffering a severe injury or illness, losing a loved one, or even moving into a nursing home.

Signs of anxiety include worrying about daily activities and physical symptoms like fatigue or nausea. Others may experience panic attacks, post-traumatic flashbacks, and fear of certain activities in some cases.

Anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with other mental health conditions like depression and dementia. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 25% of nursing home residents suffered from anxiety or depression during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alzheimer’s & Dementia
Dementia occurs when brain cells start to deteriorate. It leads to memory loss and prevents older adults from properly caring for themselves as it worsens. The WHO notes that over 50 million people have dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is one of several conditions that causes dementia. In fact, up to 80% of all dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s association.

Staying Mentally Healthy in Nursing Homes

Though many nursing home residents suffer from mental health problems, you can take steps to stay as healthy as possible.

Keeping in touch with friends and family, staying physically active, and reaching out to psychologists or social workers can all go a long way in reducing the risks.

Further, if you or a loved one may have suffered from emotional nursing home abuse, make sure to report it as soon as possible. Filing a report can ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice and that your loved one can recover.

Get a free case review to get help if your loved one was emotionally neglected or abused in a nursing home. You can pursue legal help and get the resources you need to stay mentally healthy.

FAQs on Managing Mental Health in Nursing Homes

Are mental health issues common among nursing home residents?

Yes. Up to 90% of nursing home residents have mental health problems. These issues are common among residents as they are more likely to suffer from stressors like the death of a loved one.

Do nursing homes offer mental health services?

Yes. Many nursing homes can connect patients with medications, social workers, psychologists, or ombudsmen who can help improve mental health. Ombudsmen and social workers can also connect residents with mental health resources within the community if needed.

What can I do if a loved one was mentally abused in a nursing home?

There are a few steps you can take if you or a loved one suffered from mental or emotional nursing home abuse.

First, report the abuse to authorities like Adult Protective Services (APS) or an ombudsman. A report can allow action to be taken so the abuser can be caught.

Second, make sure your loved one gets the mental health care they need to recover. They may benefit from speaking with a psychologist or social worker.

Finally, reach out to a nursing home abuse lawyer. You and your loved ones may qualify for financial compensation to cover medical expenses stemming from the abuse.

You deserve justice. Get a free legal case review now.

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Reviewed by:
Julie Rivers, MBA
Fact Checked

Julie Rivers is an eldercare advocate with over 15 years of dedicated service to victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. Her journey in this field became deeply personal when she assumed the role of an unpaid caregiver during her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

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