Sunday, May 19Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Mental Health in the Older Generation

Bethany Gooding shares her experiences with an often neglected area of mental health.

Photo by Bethany Gooding
Photo by Bethany Gooding

When visiting home recently I went from a house full of millennials to a house full of oldies (sorry Mum and Dad!).

We were looking after my Grandad for a few days whilst my Grandma was in hospital, meaning the weekend was not the restful break I had planned. My Grandad suffers from dementia and spending the weekend with him made me realise how prevalent mental illness in the elderly is and how I believe it needs more acknowledgement and wider awareness amongst the public.

With growing public awareness and campaigns surrounding mental illness, illnesses affecting the elderly should not be ignored, especially with the growing elderly population. Since 1974 the number of those aged over 65 in the UK has increased by 47% and the number aged over 75 has grown by 89%. With this huge growth in an older generation more attention needs to be directed towards their wellbeing.

The most common mental illnesses affecting the elderly are depression and dementia. For every 1000 people over the age of 65, 250 will suffer from a mental illness, 135 will have depression and of these 115 will not be receiving treatment, it is estimated that 85% of those over 65 suffering from depression get no help from the NHS. 50% of young people with depression are referred to mental health services whereas this figure for the older generation is just 6%. These figures are shocking and clearly show how important it is becoming to recognise and talk about how mental illness affects the older population.

People over 65 are more likely to experience bereavements and disabilities, leaving them unable to live independently. They are often left feeling isolated and lonely, as it becomes harder for them to leave the house, leading to depression. It is estimated that 10% of older people experience loneliness which is a symptom of depression. Loneliness is also often felt in older couples where one partner suffers with dementia. My Grandma often rings us up now for a long chat as she cannot receive this kind of interaction with my Grandad who suffers from dementia and she remains his main carer.

It is clear that the older generation suffer from mental illness and often it seems they do not get the help they need. Perhaps this is due to the era they grew up in where emotions were often kept hidden. It is important for us to raise awareness of mental health issues in the elderly to demonstrate that it is not just millennials who need mental health help, older people do too.

There is no doubt that campaigns surrounding mental illness in the younger generation are important but it is just as important that we do not neglect those of the older generation too. There are many great charities out there for older people such as Age UK providing the help the older generation need but many people are unaware what help is available to them.

So give your grandparents extra attention and make sure they are getting the help they need, it is not hard to ring them up to check up on them or ensure they are receiving social interaction, I am sure they would love to hear about your time at uni and you could just make their day.