A serious mental illness can make it hard to find care and a supportive environment for your loved one. And, choosing assisted living for someone with a mental illness may not be the first solution that comes to mind. But while assisted living is often a term associated with senior living, it’s technically defined as housing for elderly as well as disabled or ill adults. This means that many assisted living facilities may cater to the needs of adults with mental illness or disabilities.
There are many types of assisted living communities dedicated solely to people with mental health concerns, from large to small, and they typically fall within the category of residential care homes. You may see such communities use the term behavioral assisted living or behavioral health assisted living. In these types of facilities, your loved one won’t need to meet an age requirement but may need a doctor’s recommendation to be admitted.
With a wide range of diagnoses and many degrees of mental illness that adults or seniors may experience, assisted living can be tailored to fit their specific mental health needs. The caring staff, therapeutic activities, planned meals, medication management, and predictable schedules make assisted living at a care home or an assisted living facility a great option for adults with mental illness or other disabilities.
These communities offer behavioral health treatments, which typically consist of counseling coupled with medication. People with mental illness as well as those with substance abuse disorders can receive psychotherapy to help them change their behaviors and thoughts as well as how they interpret various situations. Routines are also important, as residents are taught life skills that support their health and well-being. These group homes offer many of the same amenities and services as a larger assisted living community, including medication management, meals, transportation, and activities and events.
Typical housing options include group homes, care homes, supportive housing, partially supervised group housing, and supervised group housing, according to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI). If your loved one requires full-time supervision, you may want to consider a group home, a care home, or an assisted living community.
While the requirements will vary from one community to the next, behavioral health assisted living communities typically have an 18+ age requirement, and residents are usually around the same age demographic. For example, assisted living communities that cater to the needs of seniors usually have higher age minimums. However, some memory care communities will have a more flexible age requirement to accommodate individuals with early onset dementia.
To enter a behavioral health assisted living facility, your loved one may need a diagnosis from a doctor regarding their mental illness. Those using state-level resources such as Medicare, Medicaid, or VA benefits to pay for care may also need to work with a social worker to qualify for one of these communities. If your loved one isn’t currently working with a social worker, a doctor may refer you to one. Online tools, such as the National Association of Social Workers, can also help you find behavioral health therapists who are licensed social workers. If you’re planning on using a private payment option, you may not need to work with a social worker but may still need a diagnosis or referral from a doctor.
For practical purposes, and to help ensure your loved one receives the best care, you should fully disclose to the potential community any diagnoses your loved one has. This could be especially important if:
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Individuals living with the following types of mental health conditions could likely benefit from a supportive assisted living environment:
Here are a few examples of how people with the following mental health conditions can benefit from an assisted living community:
If your loved one has received a mental health diagnosis, you’re likely aware of the specialized care they require. Each assisted living community is different in the level of care they provide, so you’ll need to be upfront about what your loved one needs to stay at their best. When communities aren’t equipped to offer everything a resident with severe mental illness needs, it can result in the following difficult situations:
The best outcome would be a community with staff trained in caring for people with severe mental illness.
Many of the services and amenities offered by assisted living communities can benefit adults living with mental health issues. For example, if your loved one struggles to maintain a healthy daily schedule, they’ll benefit from the following services at an assisted living community:
Each community varies in the level of care it provides, however, most offer medication management, a key component to the well-being of many people with a mental illness. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that your loved one is receiving their medications on time and at the proper dose. Taking medications regularly can greatly affect the medicine’s effectiveness. Missing doses of an antidepressant, for example, can cause symptoms of withdrawal or even worsen the depressive symptoms.
Many assisted living communities also have medical professionals on-site, including certified nursing assistants (CNAs), registered nurses, and sometimes visiting doctors. If your loved one needs to see a therapist, behavioral health communities often provide on-site therapies or transportation to off-site appointments. Many behavioral health caregivers even help with scheduling appointments.
The top mental health concerns for adults over 60 are depression and anxiety. If your senior loved one is experiencing either of these, then they may benefit from a supportive assisted living community. Several amenities and activities at assisted living facilities can help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression:
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A disability, like Down syndrome, differs from a mental health condition such as schizophrenia, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. However, housing options for adults with a developmental or intellectual disability take place in a similar environment to those for adults with mental illness. The home will usually specialize in either one or the other, though overlap in memory care communities may happen. Generally, assisted living for mentally ill adults tends to focus on medication management, whereas assisted living for mentally disabled adults focuses on supporting abilities.
Although there is a clear distinction between a mentally disabled and mentally ill person, sometimes group homes or specialized assisted living facilities care for both mentally ill and mentally disabled adults. In these cases, caregivers provide individualized, person-centered care all within the shared home-like environment.
If you’re looking for a home for a mentally ill or disabled family member, state-level resources may guide your decision at first. The Administration for Community Living, which receives federal funding, also provides resources to help disabled adults find housing that integrates them into a larger community.
When state-level resources are impacted, resulting in limited spaces in a state-run group home or the inability to connect with a social worker, families may decide to go the private route. Or, your loved one’s mental illness diagnosis may not qualify them for state-level resources. In these cases, A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors may be able to help your family find a local care home that caters to mentally ill or mentally disabled adults.
The median cost of assisted living across the United States is $4,500 per month, according to Genworth’s Cost of Care Survey. Many assisted living communities structure their fees based on the amount of care that a resident needs, with several pricing tiers available. If your loved one can accomplish several activities of daily living (ADLs) independently, then they may pay less than a resident needing more assistance.
Additionally, the following resources may also help you to pay for long-term care in an assisted living community:
It’s crucial to find the right community for your loved one, especially if mental health is a concern. Thankfully, preparing and utilizing resources can help with this decision:
In a best-case scenario, you’ll find a community that fits your loved one’s needs, but it’s important to be aware of the community’s rules. Certain behaviors may result in the community asking your loved one to leave, like the following:
Once you’ve chosen a community, set your loved one up for success. It’s best to move someone while their mental illness is well-managed. Maintaining a routine helps someone with mental illness stay grounded, so avoid making too many abrupt changes at once. If at all possible, work with your loved one’s community to discuss how you can help during any transitions to their routine.
You should also work with the community’s director to create a crisis plan. People with mental illness do have lapses, and when that happens, it’s important to know that your loved one’s community has a plan in place to help. Choosing things like a contact person and a preferred hospital will make a tough situation much easier to handle later, and will set your loved one up for success.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations (SAMHSA) (2022, April 27). Behavioral health treatments and services.
National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI). Finding stable housing.
Morgan, L. A., Perez, R., Frankowski, A. C., Nemec, M., & Bennett, C. R. (2016, May 13). Mental illness in assisted living: Challenges for quality of life and care. Journal of Housing for the Elderly.
Mayo Clinic. Depression (major depressive disorder).
World Health Organization (WHO). (2017, December 12). Mental health of older adults.
Mayo Clinic. (2017, September 27). Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms.
Administration for Community Living (ACL). (2020, September 29). About community living.
Genworth. (2021). Cost of care survey.
Medicare. Mental health care (outpatient).
Koepp, R. (2021, March 30). How to find assisted living with a mental health condition. Psychology Today.
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