e all face challenges as we age: our health declines, friends and family pass away, our children move on. But, for people living with a mental health condition, these changes and the instabilities they bring can be particularly challenging. Howie Mandel believes the key to aging well is to be proactive in nurturing our mental health and breaking down stigma.

In Canada, an estimated 20 percent of adults over the age of 65 suffer with mental health issues that range from depression and anxiety disorders to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. An aging population means a heavier burden on Canada’s health care system: by 2041, rates of mental illness for Canadian adults between the ages of 70 to 89 are projected to be higher than for any other age group.

Howie Mandel’s relationship with mental health issues is personal and long-lived. The comedian has endured obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for his entire life. Now aged 60 and facing the next chapter of his life, Mandel is championing the benefits of adopting an open, proactive dialogue around mental health.

“Your mental health is an organ. It is a sin that mental health is not part of our everyday curriculum,” says the America’s Got Talent judge. “It’s so much more important than anything else, we should all be proactive and cognisant.”

"We should all, from day one, learn to tend to our mental health."

Being proactive with your mental health means adopting healthy habits and tending to your diet, sleep, and exercise. Keep an agile mind doing activities that require mental and physical dexterity, such as painting and reading. Social interactions through personal relationships are key to maintaining your wellbeing. Foster new relationships by taking up hobbies, enrolling in classes, or volunteering in your community.

Tackling mental health issues head on

Mandel’s struggle with OCD took its toll on his family’s life. Terry, his wife of 36 years, eventually gave him an ultimatum: get help or leave. Mandel will never be cured of OCD or ADHD, but he’s learned to manage them. Mandel is in therapy and on medication, but he believes caring for one’s mental health goes well beyond.

“We should all, from day one, learn to tend to our mental health,” he says. “You should be open, you should talk. If you can afford it, there should always be a counsellor in your life to give you coping skills.” Learning coping skills for change and developing healthy habits early on will give you a better chance of fending off mental health issues later on in life.

What’s really needed is a shift in how we perceive our mental health. As Mandel says, “We take care of our dental health but we don’t take care of our mental health.”

The key to healthy aging is to dispel any remaining stigma attached to mental health, and for everyone — diagnosed with a condition or not — to make tending to it a part of everyday life so as to develop coping mechanisms for the challenges that life will inevitably offer.

The most important thing for people experiencing mental health issues is to reach out to someone, speak to your doctor or a loved one — chances are you’re not alone in your experiences.