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An older age and mental health

An older lady sitting talking to someone

For mental health awareness week we are taking a look at mental health across the life course and consider how our mental health is impacted as we age. The Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week happens every year, and it’s the biggest opportunity for the whole of the UK to come together to focus on getting good mental health. The week aims to tackle stigma and help people understand and prioritise their and others’ mental health.

Depression affects around 22% of men and 28% of women aged 65 years and over, yet it is estimated that 85% of older people with depression receive no help at all from the NHS.

Risk factors for poor mental health, found in different countries around the world, include poverty, poor health, insomnia, low life satisfaction, and also illnesses such as stroke, arthritis or other causes of pain and hearing loss.

Physical conditions can cause discomfort and affect a person’s ability to undertake daily living tasks, join in with social activities and stay independent. Loss of sight and hearing can be very disabling, but these are often seen as an expected part of ageing and may go unnoticed. These impairments can significantly affect a person’s communication, confidence and independence, often leading to isolation.

The following five domains have been identified as considered important for wellbeing:

  • Personal: fostering meaningful family and intergenerational relationships.
  • Social: Having access to support networks, cultural activities and friendship networks.
  • Health: Maintaining physical and mental health, engaging in physical activity.
  • Resources: Having financial security, having access to comfortable living arrangements.
  • Local: Having access to cultural activities, local shops and medical resources.

As we age, these domains all increasingly come under threat, leading to an existential crisis in some people.

It is essential to any body’s wellbeing and dignity that they are seen as an individual with experiences, aspirations and opinions and that remains so as they age. An ability to continue to develop a sense of who they are and what they want and need is important to a person’s mental health as they age.

Meaningful activity can also be key in providing motivation and the chance to learn new skills and people  to allow people to stay well and feel satisfied with life.

Other factors which can be important in promoting positive mental health include:

  • Making effort to nurture meaningful relationships, not being lonely
  • staying healthy through diet, regular check-ups and exercise
  • having a pension to allow access to cultural activities including travel and theatre
  • in some countries, this helps provide access to medical aid and medicine too

In sum, staying well both mentally and physically requires effort at any age but perhaps more so as we age due to physical and psychosocial barriers. Identifying facilitators (people, access, opportunities) is crucial to well being.

Resources that can help

If you are an older person looking for help with your mental health or are looking to support someone there are a number of organisations with resources that can help: