In 1963, President Kennedy established May as Older Americans Month, a month to celebrate and “acknowledge the contributions of past and present older citizens.”  It is sponsored by the U.S. Administration on Aging.  The third Tuesday of every month is observed as Senior Citizens Day.

Many advertisements on TV, in magazines, newspapers and in posted mail focus on the loss of physical and mental capacities that older citizens experience or will experience during aging.

Advertisements promote drugs that are said to lessen or eradicate the negative effects of aging on thinking, memory, digestion, vision, skin tone, and hair loss.

Other ads promote changes needed in the homes of older citizens that are supposed to lessen or eliminate their chances of falling or being unable to walk such as canes, walk in bathtubs and stair lifts.

We all know that aging will have some effect on people, but too many expect-to-be-in-bad-shape ads compromise the mental well-being of older citizens by making them unnecessarily anxious about their existence and their future.

In the last issue of the RoundTable (May 7th), I wrote about May as also being the Mental Health Awareness Month.  Recently, a mentally disabled person telephoned me in a very agitated state.

He had called the Evanston Police Department to file a complaint against two men that threatened to beat him up.  According to this person, the responding officer was “rude” to him and yelled at him about always calling the police to complain about noise from a neighborhood business.  Obviously, this person was made even more anxious by the officer’s behavior, and I was made anxious by this person’s anxiety.  A call to the police department to get the officer’s name and report number as well as advising this person to talk with his counselor about the situation helped to lessen this person’s anxiety.  The news media, prison personnel, mental health agencies, and citizens have stressed the need for police departments to be trained in how to interact with mentally ill/disabled people.  This is absolutely necessary. 

In general, for the sake of everyone involved, people should try to decrease rather than increase anxiety in others.