Today is World Mental Health Day – a day the world celebrates mental health education, awareness and advocacy. Guest blogger Karyn Davie, Age Scotland’s Health & Benefits Project Worker, shares her findings from recent group discussions on mental health and older people, and the barriers to people seeking help.
Earlier this year I met with some of Age Scotland’s member groups to talk about mental health and wellbeing; access to treatments, and their own personal experiences.
It was clear that self-stigma remains a strong barrier to people in older age seeking help to mental health issues, with individuals being concerned about being judged by others.
‘My neighbours didn’t know why I was in hospital- it would be different if it was a heart attack or something, they would stop me in the street and ask if I was ok- but they would look strange and think I was a ‘loony’ who had been in a ‘loony ward’. I couldn’t cope with that’.
Another common theme that was discussed by the groups was loss of social networks and the effect this has on self-esteem, and sense of social standing. One gentleman told me: “I have been to four funerals already this year- that’s my social life! I worry there’ll be no one left to come to mine”.
Other Common Losses discussed were:
- The impact of retirement, and the loss of structure to the day
- Moving home; close friends or family moving away;
- Living on reduced income
- Not being able to take part in activities enjoyed for many years because of difficulties getting there, health problems or hearing/sight problems that affect them
- Sense of vulnerability due to sudden health changes i.e. stroke or heart attack
All of these losses were discussed as having a significant impact on the person’s self-esteem, with many people advising that they made them feel isolated and lonely.
While visiting the Mood Project in West Lothian, the Men’s Group were very honest and open about issues for them. They made the following observations:
- Men don’t generally pick up leaflets to seek advice unless; directly given to them by a health professional; forced to by a partner; or it says ‘free’ on the cover!
- Men tend to talk about ‘problems’ rather than emotions.
- They would rather be actively ‘doing things’ rather than talking i.e. walking groups, outings, men’s sheds.
- Mental health problems affect their sense of masculinity- they should be the strong one; the protector and provider and this is challenged by feelings of being ‘weak’.
Many people I spoke to that described physical symptoms such as heart palpitations and headaches that don’t go away were unaware that the way they felt could be due to their mental health. They also preferred to use terms like ‘funny turns’ rather than panic attacks.
Much of the terminology used in modern day mental health services such as ‘mental resilience’ or ‘coping strategies’ was unrecognised, and had a very negative impact. There was also very little awareness or understanding of treatment options such as psychological therapies, and social prescriptions. Both of these factors presents a real barrier to people seeking help, as the fear remains that it will lead to admission to a psychiatric hospital.
In general written resources are not age friendly, often using bright fonts with modern slang and terminology or advocating use of mobile apps or computer programmes which can isolate older audiences. Information is also not always presented in a way that takes into account differing needs due to sensory and cognitive functions.
We also found that concerned friends and family struggled to find resources about ‘how to have that difficult conversation’ and how they could help.
With the learnings from these visits, I am currently developing information resources for people who are concerned about their mental health, with the aim to make it more accessible and age appropriate.
For more information on Mental Health visit:
- The Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) http://www.samh.org.uk
- NHS inform: http://www.nhsinform.co.uk/MentalHealth
Or call Silver Line Scotland on 0800 4 70 80 90