Time to Talk – Older People and Mental Health

Yesterday marked the fourth national Time to Talk Day, a yearly initiative run by Time to Change which aims to break the silence surrounding mental health issues. Time to Change is a growing movement of people – led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness – who work towards ending all forms of mental health discrimination.

Mental health problems affect one in four of adults, yet for many it remains a difficult subject to discuss, whether they’re personally affected by mental illness or not. Accordingly, Time to Talk Day aims to break down stereotypes, improve relationships, and aid recovery by encouraging members of the public to share their experiences with family, friends, and colleagues. In fact, since it first launched in 2014, Time to Talk Day has generated millions of conversations across the country, from homes, schools, and workplaces, to online networks and the media

Such conversations are important across all demographics, but as the Mental Health Foundation’s website states, “older people are more vulnerable to mental health problems.” Plus, as the UK population continues to age rapidly, more and more older people will be in need of both mental and physical care – not least because mental health problems can impact upon one’s physical health and vice versa.

Hidden in Plain Sight“, an Age UK report from last October, discovered that three million people over the age of 60 are currently living with depression in the UK, with this figure set to rise to 4.3 million over the next fifteen years.

Worryingly, the report suggests that the current availability of mental health services does not meet the increasingly high demand from the UK population.

Yet the report does offer recommendations for future treatment, most notably by advocating the importance of talking therapies. This form of care involves talking to a specially trained practitioner, who can aid the patient in their management of their thoughts and feelings and the effect they can have on their behaviour and mood. Most importantly of all, the treatment is free through the NHS.

Age UK’s support for talking therapies feeds into the Time to Talk campaign by not only encouraging conversations about mental health, but also by pushing the country to hold such discussions all year round.

This – somewhat unexpectedly perhaps – is the true focus of Time to Talk Day: creating a shift in society’s attitudes to mental health to ensure that a yearly event becomes a daily occurrence.

Whilst it’s true that friends, family, and colleagues are unlikely to be specially trained in matters of mental health in the manner of a therapist, there are still huge benefits to be gained from any discussion on the subject, as Time for Change have made clear on their website:

“Conversations about mental health change lives. At the moment, too many people with mental health problems are made to feel isolated, ashamed and worthless by other people’s reactions. But talking about mental health doesn’t need to be difficult. It can be as simple as making time to have a cup of tea or go for a walk, and listening to someone talk about how they feel. Being open about mental health and ready to listen can make a positive difference to someone’s life.”

Furthermore, discussions around mental health can provide the push a person needs to access professional talking therapy. This is especially important as one in five older people living in the community and two in five people living in care homes experience depression or poor mental health.

By increasing the number of conversations about mental health, we can begin breaking down the stigma and allow many more people to access the care and support that they need.

It’s time to talk.

For advice on managing mental health in later life, see Age UK or Mental Health Foundation‘s websites. For tips on starting a conversation about mental health, have a look at Time to Change’s handy guide.

George Harvey

George is Age UK London's Communications and Campaigns Officer.

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