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Find Assisted Living for Adults with Mental Illness: A How-To Guide

11 minute readLast updated October 13, 2022
Written by Rebecca Schier-Akamelu

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.

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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.

What is behavioral assisted living?

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.[01] 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).[02] If your loved one requires full-time supervision, you may want to consider a group home, a care home, or an assisted living community.

What are the requirements for assisted living for a mentally ill individual?

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:

  • Your loved one takes medication for their condition.
  • Your loved one needs to be matched with a therapist or counselor.
  • Your loved one acts out physically as a result of their condition.

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What mental health conditions can assisted living help with?

Individuals living with the following types of mental health conditions could likely benefit from a supportive assisted living environment:

  • Anxiety disorders or phobias
  • Manic-depressive or bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Medication or substance abuse disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Schizophrenia or early onset dementia

Here are a few examples of how people with the following mental health conditions can benefit from an assisted living community:

  • Someone with an eating disorder may benefit from social and staff support during meals and will have access to healthy food options.
  • Someone with bipolar disorder may feel more secure with a predictable routine.
  • Adults with schizophrenia can gain comfort from structure, boundaries, and support from a caring staff.

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:

  • Stressed staff who are unequipped to care for someone with dangerous behaviors
  • Poorer care for all residents as staff becomes stretched thin
  • Dangerous situations for other residents, staff members, and the individual who is mentally ill

The best outcome would be a community with staff trained in caring for people with severe mental illness.[03]

Why is assisted living a good option for someone with mental health issues?

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:

  • Regularly provided nutritional meals
  • Scheduled activities for physical and mental stimulation
  • Housekeeping and laundry services
  • Planned social events
  • Around-the-clock staff
  • Help with activities of daily living, like bathing and dressing

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.[04]

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.

What are the benefits of assisted living for seniors with mental health conditions?

The top mental health concerns for adults over 60 are depression and anxiety.[05] 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:

  • Regular social gatherings offer something to look forward to, help establish feelings of connection, and give residents plenty of time to plan ahead.
  • Meals offer a social environment and encourage residents who may have a reduced appetite to try to eat regularly.
  • Exercise classes offer a social component as well as health benefits. The endorphins released during exercise help with symptoms of depression and anxiety, too.[06]
  • Volunteer programs and intergenerational activities give residents a chance to give back and increase their sense of purpose.

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What are the differences between assisted living for mentally disabled adults versus assisted living for mentally ill adults?

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.

Where can someone find assisted living for a mentally ill or disabled adult?

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.[07]

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.

Cost and payment options

The median cost of assisted living across the United States is $4,500 per month, according to Genworth’s Cost of Care Survey.[08] 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:

How to choose an assisted living facility for someone with limited mental health?

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:

  • Assess your loved one’s needs. If your loved one receives treatment regularly, their therapist or doctor may have a good idea of their care needs. Such specialists can also make sure your loved one is well-prepared and moving at the right time.
  • Educate yourself. Learn about assisted living and your loved one’s feelings about moving into a community. You can also get tips from our guide on what to do when a parent is refusing to move to assisted living.
  • Tour communities and ask questions. Speak to several members of a prospective community’s staff and ask as many detailed questions as you need to.
  • Reach out to a Senior Living Advisor. Even if you’re looking for assisted living for an adult with mental health issues or a disability, A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors have a wealth of knowledge about which communities in your area may be able to accommodate them.

Assisted living agreements

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:

  • Violent behavior. Endangering themselves or another person likely means your loved one needs a higher level of care and supervision than an assisted living community can provide.
  • Exit-seeking behavior. If your loved one does not want to move to assisted living and tries to leave, the community may refuse them. In this case, a community with a higher level of security may be a better fit.

Plan ahead

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.[10] 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.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations (SAMHSA) (2022, April 27). Behavioral health treatments and services.

  2. National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI). Finding stable housing.

  3. 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.

  4. World Health Organization (WHO). (2017, December 12). Mental health of older adults.

  5. Mayo Clinic. (2017, September 27). Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms.

  6. Administration for Community Living (ACL). (2020, September 29). About community living.

  7. Genworth. (2021). Cost of care survey.

  8. Koepp, R. (2021, March 30). How to find assisted living with a mental health condition. Psychology Today.

Meet the Author
Rebecca Schier-Akamelu

Rebecca Schier-Akamelu is a writer at A Place for Mom. Her writing supports a person-centered approach to senior care and she’s written on a range of topics from home care to finances. She holds a certificate in digital media and marketing from Duke University and a bachelor’s degree from Creighton University.

Edited by

Marlena Gates

The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

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