Why Occupational Therapy Is Important In Mental Health


Susan B. Anthony said, “Independence is happiness.” But for millions of older adults, independent living is an ever-increasing challenge. Reduced mobility, chronic pain, or degenerative illness can severely impact the capacity for self-care. And when a person’s independence is threatened, so is their mental wellbeing.

According to the World Health Organization, 15% of older adults worldwide suffer from a mental health disorder, with the most prevalent condition being depression. In the older population, depression is both underdiagnosed and undertreated, but the consequences of inaction can be extremely dangerous.

Fortunately, by engaging in an occupational therapy program, seniors can learn strategies to maintain their independence, and thus improve their overall mental health.

Purposeful living is important to your mental health

A study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that independent functioning in older adults was linked to living a purposeful life. Purposeful living is all about setting meaningful personal goals and taking the steps necessary to achieve them. This helps to cultivate a sense of accomplishment and self-worth, which not only reduces the risk of depression, but has also been shown to slow memory loss and mood changes associated with dementia. It can also improve physical health and lead to a longer life span.

Personal goals don’t have to be big to be meaningful. Something as simple as cooking your own meals, caring for a pet, or engaging in interesting and worthwhile hobbies can have a huge impact on your overall state of mental health. But as you age, simple tasks like these can become very difficult. And if you’re dealing with long-term illness or memory loss, living a purposeful life can seem like an impossible endeavor.

How occupational therapy can help you live a purposeful life

Seniors who are struggling to live independently and with purpose can regain a sense of autonomy by participating in an occupational therapy program. Occupational therapy activities for adults usually involve setting meaningful goals, identifying obstacles to those goals, and modifying behaviors to overcome those obstacles.

Some common goals that provide meaning and purpose to the lives of older adults may include:

  • Running errands. Going to the grocery store, the post office, or the library lend structure to the day and encourage self-sufficiency.

  • Socializing. Spending quality time with family or friends prevents isolation and loneliness, which can lead to depression and anxiety.

  • Housekeeping. Caring for your home and your belongings contributes to feelings of comfort, pride, and productivity.

When to seek out occupational therapy

Occupational therapists can help improve quality of life for people who are suffering from a wide range of illnesses or conditions. Some reasons you might want to seek out occupational therapy include:

  • Injury. If you’ve recently undergone surgery or some other physical trauma, occupational therapy can be an important part of your recovery plan. The difference between occupational and physical therapy is that occupational therapy does not directly treat the injury; rather, it takes a holistic approach to healing, focusing on finding ways to help patients achieve their goals despite their physical limitations.

  • Depression. People who are suffering from depression may lack the motivation or resources to participate in meaningful activities. An occupational therapist can help patients define their goals and structure their lives in a purposeful manner.

  • Dementia. While progressive neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are irreversible, dementia occupational therapy can slow down memory loss and help older adults live independently for as long as possible.

Bella Vista offers occupational therapy

If you believe you or a loved one can benefit from occupational therapy, Bella Vista Health Center can help. Our skilled and compassionate occupational therapists can help you set meaningful goals and maximize your independence and quality of life. With some of the best occupational therapy San Diego has to offer, we design customized treatment plans for each of our patients, while prioritizing their safety, comfort, and wellbeing. Call us at (619) 644-1000 and find out more about what our occupational therapy program can do for you.