Mental health is so hard to understand, especially if you don't have any issues yourself. When a member of our family, or one of our friends, has a mental health illness, it can be very hard not to tell them to 'snap out of it', or 'just think about someone else for a change'.The introspection that comes with some mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety can be very difficult to live with.However, poor mental health affects more than just mood and emotional behaviour. It can also be a symptom of physical illness, like brain degeneration with dementia.
How older people can be affected by mental health problems?
Older people are just as susceptible to common mental health problems like depression and anxiety, but these can also be affected by poor relationships. For example, if someone feels very lonely, they may, over time, become depressed If you have a parent or relative who has a history of mental health problems - perhaps a borderline personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or a depressive mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder, you may be very practiced in handling the issues that stem from that. However, some people find that the degenerative effects of age include the dreaded Alzheimer's disease, or dementia.For those not touched by mental health before, it can initially be confusing for all involved, and can also be a shock, especially as the effects take hold.
Why there is a stigma around mental health?
Stigmas tend to be due to a lack of understanding and empathy for those who suffer. We may live in a slightly more enlightened time, but even though we now have the knowledge to understand mental health a lot better, we aren't always equipped with the emotional strength to do so. People are often afraid of things they don't understand, and their reactions become emotional rather than mindful. If you are witness to one of your parents becoming irrevocably forgetful or dangerously absent-minded, your first reaction may be irritation or amusement. But those small-seeming issues can sometimes be one of the first signs of dementia, and catching them early, to encourage a slower change in the person is more important than getting mad about something they forgot to do. The mental health stigma can also stem from embarrassment.
The idea of someone 'losing their mind' is a strong emotional thought, but it is an unhelpful one. People suffering from dementia may experience reduced inhibition, so you might find they take their clothes off in public, or start hitting on a member of the opposite sex, or otherwise behave inappropriately. They may uncharacteristically become violent or angry, and they may sometimes become confused. Confusion can lead to elderly people walking away from their homes with no idea where they are going; it can also be a horrible experience where a beloved parent does not know their child. Awful for everyone, even the person involved, even if they don't seem to realise what they're doing. For example, the lady who doesn't recognise her son when he visits may still know she has a son. She may wonder why he doesn't visit her any more. Dementia is a terribly sad disease, where we seem to lose the people we love before they pass away, and it can go on for a very long time. Being embarrassed by the behaviour of the person we love must surely come second to our concern for their wellbeing, and it is also important that we keep an eye on their dignity and privacy, and ensure that nothing happens to them because of their vulnerability around other people.
How can we improve the quality of life of those who have mental health problems?
Relationships are the biggest key to improving the quality of life for someone suffering from mental health issues. Better relationships mean talking more often, listening better and more effectively, and fostering better understanding and more empathy. Empathy isn't the same as sympathy. It isn't stroking someone on the arm, and telling them they're going to be okay. Empathy is walking in that person's shoes for a while, trying to understand what they are going through. Empathy isn't always about saying the right thing; sometimes it's about saying nothing at all.
Watch this lovely 2-minute animated short to figure out empathy a little more.
Ultimately, you can help the people you love by accepting and loving them, no matter what they do, what happens, or who it happens to. Anger can't help; disgust and embarrassment can't help. The only thing that will help is for you to be there for your friend or relative, as a solid, understanding fixture in their life, for as long as they need. Mental Health Awareness week is about raising awareness about the issues that come with mental health, and this year the focus is on relationships and how those can improve your world and that of the people you care about.
What will you do for Mental Health Awareness week?
For more information visit https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week