The elderly are the happiest...but badly served
Posted Monday 5 October 2009
The Telegraph recently reported that the elderly are generally mentally healthier than younger people. This is apparently explained in part by their living for the present and not worrying about the future. In a past worklife, I worked for Help the Aged and we spent a lot of our time trying to publicise the fact that many people can and do have a very active, fulfilling and happy later life.
However, the images of a 'silver surfer' generation living in retirement bliss - relaxed happiness with a yacht here and a Spanish villa there - do not hold true for the entire elderly population. In stark contrast, one in four older people have symptoms of depression severe enough to warrant intervention. But even more worrying is the fact that people over 75 are sixteen times - sixteen! - less likely to be asked about suicidal thoughts than young adults.
Why the shocking disparity? Ageism clearly plays a large part, with many wrongly believing that depression is a natural part of the ageing process. A survey by the British Geriatric Society found that over half of respondents believed the NHS is institutionally ageist. The fact that this came from doctors specialising in the treatment of older people makes the findings all the more upsetting - they really know what they're talking about.
The consequences of older people not getting proper care can be fatal. In particular, suicide rates for older men are very high. This is often blamed on the isolation that many older men experience. Around 500,000 older men live alone and, sadly, one in five people with an elderly father is not in contact with him. Mind's Men and Mental Health campaign highlights the need to make mental health services more male friendly.
Something needs to change. Services need to take the needs of older people into account and not pass their symptoms off as 'old age'. Who knows, perhaps universal 'retirement bliss' - Spanish villa included - could become a reality for the future!
Mariam Kemple, Policy and Campaigns Officer
Commenting is now closed.