Hot off the press is the web version of our most recent annual report focused on older adults and mental health—a topic near and dear to many of us at the Foundation.

In May 2002, my friend Tucker killed himself. Alone in his apartment, he used a gun to commit suicide. What haunts me (and many of his friends) to this day is that we had no idea that he was depressed. None. For years, Tucker apparently put on a brave face and silently suffered.

Such is the case with many older adults. Of the 40 million Americans over the age of 65, about 7.5 million have a mental health disorder and this number will grow as more of our population ages. Many older adults with mental illness suffer needlessly as they may have not been diagnosed, receive inadequate care, or worse—get no care at all. This despite the fact that adults over the age of 65 have a disproportionally higher rate of suicide than other age groups, with white males 85 and older having the highest.

Like Tucker, many older adults don’t share their suffering with others for a number of reasons, including the stigma associated with mental health issues. Older adults are also less likely to seek treatment because of the false belief (by aging Americans, their caregivers, and far too many health care professionals) that depression is a normal part of aging.

“Just because there are reasons for depression doesn’t mean it can’t be treated,” says Dr. Jurgen Unutzer, the leader of the Hartford-funded Project IMPACT, which assesses and treats depression in a primary care setting.

We elected to feature Project IMPACT in our 2011 annual report, along with four other Hartford-funded mental health projects: the Geropsychiatric Nursing Collaborative, our Centers of Excellence in Geriatric Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego and the University of Pittsburgh, and policy-driven mental health efforts by our Hartford Social Work Faculty Scholars and Doctoral Fellows.

We bring life to these projects by sharing the stories of a number of strong and generous older adults who have benefited from each one. Our upcoming annual report blog series will, therefore, spotlight older adults, like Elizabeth who successfully overcame her depression through Project IMPACT. We will do this in a photo, essay, and video format to fully present the powerful stories of these inspiring older adults and the Hartford programs that helped them.

We are honored to give voice to the eleven featured older adults in our annual report. It is through them and the professionals associated with our Hartford mental health projects that we hope to raise awareness about mental health issues in our aging population.

Stayed tuned for these stories and in the meantime, please enjoy the annual report and its Resource Guide, which provides additional information, tools, and readings.

Other blogs in the 2011 Annual Report series:

Educating Nurses About Mental Health and Aging