Research shows that older adults are often less likely to seek care and support from mental health professionals than their younger counterparts due to cultural stigma, shame and ignorance surrounding mental illnesses and psychological problems
Mental illnesses are diseases that cause mild-to-severe disturbances in thought and/or behaviour, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands or routines. Common mental illnesses that are prevalent in the elderly include Depression, Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Anxiety, bipolar disorder and Schizophrenia to name a few.
One in four older people living in the community have symptoms of depression that are severe enough to warrant intervention. Only a third of older people with depression ever discuss it with their GP. Only half of them are diagnosed and treated, primarily with anti-depressants.
Early Warning Signs of Mental Illness in Older People
1. Memory Issues
Signs of memory loss may include misplacing belongings, repeatedly asking for the same information or forgetting important dates.
2. Changes In Personal Care
Changes in personal appearance that may be a sign of a mental illness include forgoing bathing or skipping previously standard personal care tasks.
3. Social Withdrawal
Older people suffering from mental illness often become socially withdrawn. You may notice your loved ones are losing interest in activities that they once enjoyed and avoiding regular social engagements.
4. Changes in Mood
A change in mood often accompanies mental illnesses, such as depression and Alzheimer’s. If these mood changes last more than a couple of weeks, there may be a more serious cause driving their altered personality. Individuals exhibiting any of these symptoms should be encouraged to reach out to a professional who can help diagnose and treat mental illness.
Symptoms of mental illness in Older people
As loved ones age, it’s natural for some changes to occur. Occasional forgetfulness is one thing; however, persistent cognitive or memory loss is potentially serious.
The same goes for extreme anxiety or long-term depression. Caregivers should keep an eye out for the following warning signs, which could indicate a mental health concern:
· Changes in appearance or dress, or problems maintaining the home.
· Confusion, disorientation, problems with concentration or decision-making.
· Decrease or increase in appetite; changes in weight.
· Depressed mood lasting longer than two weeks.
· Feelings of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt, helplessness; loneliness, thoughts of suicide
· Memory loss, especially recent or short-term memory problems.
· Physical problems that can’t otherwise be explained: aches and pains
· Social withdrawal; loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable.
· Trouble handling finances or working with numbers.
· Unexplained fatigue, energy loss or sleep changes.
There are plenty of reasons why you might be feeling like you do, but there also may be no clear reason at all – and that’s fine too. Speaking to loved ones / health care professionals can help treat and manage such symptoms
Depression in later life can be a major cause of ill health and can have a severe effect on physical and mental wellbeing. Older people are particularly vulnerable to factors that lead to depression, these can include bereavement, physical disabilities, illnesses and loneliness. Contacting your family doctor is always a good place to start.
How to look after your mental health
1. Talk about your feelings
Talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled.
2. Keep active
Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and can help you concentrate, sleep, and feel better. Exercise keeps the brain and your other vital organs healthy and is also a significant benefit towards improving your mental health.
3. Eat well
Your brain needs a mix of nutrients in order to stay healthy and function well, just like the other organs in your body. A diet that’s good for your physical health is also good for your mental health.
4. Drink sensibly
We often drink alcohol to change our mood. Some people drink to deal with fear or loneliness, but the effect is only temporary.
When the drink wears off, you feel worse because of the way the alcohol has affected your brain and the rest of your body. Drinking is not a good way to manage difficult feelings.
5. Keep in touch
There’s nothing better than catching up with someone face to face, but that’s not always possible. You can also give them a call, drop them a note, or chat to them online instead. Keep the lines of communication open: it’s good for you!
6. Ask for help
None of us are superhuman. We all sometimes get tired or overwhelmed by how we feel or when things don’t go to plan.
If things are getting too much for you and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help. Your family or friends may be able to offer practical help or a listening ear.
7. Take a break
A change of scene or a change of pace is good for your mental health. A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you. Give yourself some ‘me time’.
8. Do something you’re good at
What do you love doing? What activities can you lose yourself in? What did you love doing in the past?
Enjoying yourself can help beat stress, by doing an activity that you enjoy will help you feel good and achieve something that boosts your self-esteem.
9. Accept who you are
We’re all different. It’s much healthier to accept that you’re unique than to wish you were more like someone else. Feeling good about yourself boosts your confidence to learn new skills, visit new places and make new friends. Good self-esteem helps you cope when life takes a difficult turn.
10. Care for others
Caring for others is often an important part of keeping up relationships with people close to you. It can even bring you closer together. We often forget to ask our loved ones who care for us how they may be feeling.
Positive Mental Health Toolkit
Ways To Improve your Mental Health
· Ask For help
· Keep a journal
· Try to be active
· Be outside in nature
· Talk to yourself kindly
· Look on the bright side
· Practice deep breathing
· Do a task you’re good at
· Sleep and rest adequately
· Watch something that uplifts you
· Spend time with positive people
· Eat nutritious food and drink lots of water
· Distance yourself from things that don’t feel good
How day centres can offer support
Over the years our service users have become more isolated and some are suffering with various deteriorating physical and mental health / medical conditions which require ongoing professional care and support.
Centre’s such as the Guru Nanak Day Centre have helped older people for over 27 years to overcome loneliness simply by encouraging individuals to engage in activities of their choice in a safe home from home environment. Engaging in group exercise not only reduces loneliness in older people but also significantly improves general mental health and well-being.
This has been achieved by:
· Actively listening to our service users
· Conducting a thorough assessment of their needs
· Being sensitive to their choices
· Involving those who use the services in what is being planned and delivered and always keeping them informed throughout the processes
· Being clear about what we can and what we cannot provide
· Closely liasing with other professional partners in order to provide person centered support
· Reviewing the effectiveness of services provided
· Understanding the pressures on carers and giving them as much support as we are able