Historically left on the back burner of the U.S. health care system, mental health is having its moment. In fact, a recent Forbes Health survey of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted by OnePoll found nearly half of U.S. adults across generational divides believe it’s “very important” to look after their mental health.
Fortunately, access to such care seems to improve year after year as well, particularly for older adults. Original Medicare, as well as a variety of Medicare Advantage and Medicare Supplement plans, can help cover costs associated with mental health care offered by participating providers. While there are myriad ways to care for one’s mental health—including methods like talk therapy that still come with perceived stigma among certain generations—access to affordable care is often one of the first steps to helping rewrite these social narratives.
Read on to learn how attitudes toward mental health vary across generations in the U.S., as well as how positive, motivational tools like bucket lists can support an individual’s mental health as they age.
How Attitudes Toward Mental Health Vary Across Generations
Though the topic of mental health may be approached differently by each generation, its importance is recognized throughout every age group. The Forbes Health survey found 67% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 27 agree that mental health should be an open topic of discussion among friends, and 66% of participants between the ages of 59 and 77 agree.
In regards to current mental health status among generations, 49% of participants ages 18 to 27 describe the current state of their mental health as “excellent” compared to only 29% of respondents ages 59 to 77. However, 49% of respondents ages 59 to 77 do describe their mental health status as “good.” Perhaps even more encouraging, 53% of respondents at least 78 years old describe their mental health as “excellent.”
When weighing the importance of mental health and physical health, 46% of respondents ages 59 to 77 ranked physical health above mental, emotional and spiritual health. However, 56% of participants ages 18 to 26 ranked mental health as most important among all categories.
Maintaining and caring for one’s mental health is work all generations agree is important, with 95% of 18- to 26-year-old respondents and 85% of 59- to 77-year-old respondents noting its value.
However, the methods each generation uses to support mental health vary. Regarding generational feelings about therapy, for example, the practice is overwhelmingly viewed as a useful tool among age groups—but to different extents. While 63% of adults ages 59 to 77 agree therapy is at least somewhat important for supporting mental health, 67% of respondents ages 18 to 26 strongly agree that therapy is a valuable mental health support tool.
In terms of daily lifestyle habits, survey respondents ages 18 to 26 prioritize socializing, reading, physical exercise, keeping busy and listening to music and/or podcasts as a means of caring for their mental health. Meanwhile, participants ages 59 to 77 choose sleep as their main priority, followed by keeping busy, exercising regularly, socializing and eating a healthy diet. Respondents at least 78 years old also note socializing as their main method for caring for mental health, followed by regular exercise and sleep.
Priority order aside, getting enough sleep, socializing, eating a balanced diet and finding ways to stay mentally and physically active are all important aspects of maintaining mental health, as well as promoting healthy aging overall and protecting cognitive health through retirement.
The Mental Health Benefits of a Bucket List
Staying active and engaged later in life is directly associated with more positive feelings about one’s mental health as they age. Among typical hobbies and daily routines, the coveted “bucket list” can help provide a source of inspiration for activity, as well as a sense of focus, momentum and, ultimately, fulfillment.
A bucket list can be any predetermined set of tasks or goals a person outlines as important for them to complete during their lifetime. Ranging from as general as “read more for fun” and as specific as “hike Machu Picchu,” bucket list elements typically aim to provide an individual with a sense of accomplishment and contentment.
Interestingly, over 40% of U.S. adults at least 59 years old have a list of tasks and goals they want to achieve during their retirement years. Better yet, over 47% of them at least somewhat agree that a bucket list can support their mental health through retirement.
Across all generations, survey respondents are most excited about finding a new hobby as a potential result of their bucket list (57%), followed closely by traveling to other countries (56%) and trying more “extreme” sports (53%). See the most popular bucket list items in the U.S. below.
For older adults nearing and navigating retirement, bucket list priorities seem to shift.
Survey respondents between the ages of 59 and 77 are most keenly focused on spending more time with their family and friends (55%), prioritizing their health and well-being (52%), traveling to other countries (46%) and spending more time in nature (46%).
Meanwhile, respondents at least 78 years old are excited about traveling to other countries (87%), finding a new hobby (78%), focusing on their health and well-being (74%), seeing more of the world’s sights (74%) and trying a new sport (74%).
While it’s common to experience increased feelings of worry and apprehension as one ages, it’s clear that framing the years to come with a bucket list or similar tool can be a boon for one’s mental health and an overall positive perspective toward the future.
This online survey of 2,000 U.S. adults was commissioned by Forbes Health and conducted by market research company OnePoll, in accordance with the Market Research Society’s code of conduct. Data was collected Aug. 11–16, 2023. This survey was overseen by the OnePoll research team, which is a member of the MRS and has corporate membership with the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). For a complete survey methodology, including geographic and demographic sample sizes, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Affordable, Convenient Therapy Anytime, Anywhere
Receive the help you deserve. BetterHelp makes professional therapy available anywhere through a computer, tablet, or smartphone.