09 October 2019
In her latest blog for us, Beth Britton writes about supporting mental health throughout the life course…
“There is no health without mental health.”
These were US Surgeon General David Satcher’s words in a report on mental health that was published in 1999. It’s become an iconic saying, indeed, it was the title of the 2011 cross-government mental health outcomes strategy for England and it remains a perfectly illustrative statement for good reason – Dr Satcher is right.
People who are experiencing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are at greater risk of heart and respiratory disease and are more prone to obesity, to name just some potential physical effects of mental ill-health. Yet mental health remains the poor relation to physical health. Even now, a person with a broken leg is more likely to receive timely care and feel happier talking about their fracture than a person with severe depression who needs to seek help for their mental ill-health but firstly needs to find a way to talk about how they are feeling.
Mental health in our ageing population
This ‘covering up’ of mental health problems can have serious consequences though, the most severe being suicide. This year’s World Mental Health Day is focused on suicide prevention, and in researching this blog I found some alarming data from the UK Office for National Statistics regarding suicides in older people:
“Since the early 1980s, suicide rates have increased with age, peaking among the middle-aged (45 to 49 years). Suicide rates then decrease until the age of 80 to 84, at which point they begin to rise. Suicide rates tend to increase in the oldest age groups for both males and females. Many factors contribute to this widely seen phenomenon around the world such as psychiatric illness, deterioration of physical health and functioning, and social factors.”
Social factors contributing to suicides
What stands out for me in that statement is the mention of ‘social factors’. I suspect that these would include ageism, feelings of exclusion in a fast-paced, youth-focused society and/or a deeply held belief that as an older person you simply wouldn’t be missed. Underlying all of this would undoubtedly be isolation and loneliness, which is endemic amongst our older generations. I write exclusively about loneliness in my next guest blog for Promedica24.
Suicide is a tragedy at any age, but to consider that a person could live for the majority of their life and then become silently engulfed in suicidal thoughts is something that must not be ignored simply because these individuals are older. The stigma of mental ill-health remains rife in our society, and this is perhaps most keenly felt amongst older people who may picture asylums and the barbaric mental health ‘treatments’ that existed years ago as examples of what happens if you dare to express what an older person might consider to be mental ‘weakness’.
An action plan for us all
We can all help to combat the social factors that are contributing to suicides in older people. Simple measures include keeping in-touch with older relatives, checking on and taking an interest in the lives of elderly neighbours, and breaking down our British reserve to brighten someone’s day by striking up conversations when we’re out and about. Part of the solution also rests with community groups and care providers, and through companion care services, Promedica24 are enabling the older people they support to mitigate against those negative social factors that could contribute to a severe decline in their mental health.
No one should feel so alone, undervalued and hopeless that they believe the best solution is to end their life. This World Mental Health Day, let’s commit to talking about mental health more readily and supporting each other to achieve the parity between physical and mental health that Dr Satcher was talking about.
About the author:
Beth Britton is an award-winning content creator, consultant, trainer, mentor, campaigner and speaker who is an expert in ageing, health and social care.
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