PT Weekly: Mental Health in Relation to Ageing

Mental health involves cognitive (how we think), behavioral (how we act), and emotional (how we feel) well-being. It also helps to determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. The term ‘mental health’ can also mean an absence of a mental disorder and a state of psychological well-being.

It is a state in which one has achieved a satisfactory integration of one’s instinctual drives acceptable to both oneself and the environments. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.

Possible Risk factors for Mental Health Issues in Older Adults
There are several factors that can contribute to mental health issues in the elderly, including but not limited to;

  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems

Mental health issues are very common in our society especially in older adults, although people can be affected in different ways. Several changes in one’s life situations as they get older can make someone vulnerable to mental health issues like low mood, depression and anxiety. In many cases there may not be any known cause, but some of the changes that can impair mental health are the following:

  • ill health or general decrease in physical abilities
  • relationship breakdown
  • bereavement
  • loneliness
  • loss of independence
  • loss of daily routine and social contact following retirement
  • loss of income or money worries
  • Felling of neglect by family members and loved ones

Signs of Mental Health Issues
If someone is experiencing one or more of the following signs or behavioral symptoms it can be an early warning sign:

  • Pulling away from people and usual activities
  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Excessive eating or sleeping
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset worried, or scared
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends unnecessarily
  • Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others
  • Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school

Mental health issues are frequently considered an unavoidable part of the process of ageing and this is not actually true. The major challenges concerning ageing and mental health are prevention, early diagnosis, recognition of major diseases, treatment and quality of life interventions at both an individual and community level.

Older adults either exhibiting or showing any of the warning signs listed above are not to be taken care of by the family members alone, but the community in which they reside also have a role to play as there is generally a need for professionals that will help them.

List of Mental health professionals
There are a range of professionals who can help with mental health issues. Below is a list of different mental health workers you might come across.

1. Psychiatrist
2. Psychologist
3. Mental health nurse
4. Social worker
5. Pediatrician
6. Occupational therapist
7. Physiotherapist
8. Counsellor

Generally, health care workers should always play a role in managing mental health issues. Sometimes it can be a more active role like a therapist seeing a patient or sometimes it just requires recognizing the signs and making the correct referral to make sure the patient gets the necessary intervention.

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