As I’ve mentioned previously, Thursday was World Mental Health Day 2013. Its theme was “mental health and older adults”, and I thought I shall give due respect — having collected badges and a goodie bag in commemoration of the event — by talking about it today, or as much as I know of it.
People have a stigma against mental health. We all know that more or less. People also have a stigma against older people to some extent. Even if you say outright that you don’t, it mayn’t be an indication of your implicit attitude towards them. We all have explicit and implicit attitudes against things. We are unaware of our implicit attitudes, which are usually formed when we were very young, and may explain our instinctive reactions toward them.
To test if you have an implicit prejudice against the elderly, try the Implicit Association Test. It can be found here: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/. Select “Project Implicit Social Attitude” and then “Age IAT”. Fill in the questionnaire if you wish, and then do the activity. There will be a result at the end indicating your implicit feelings towards senior citizens.
And we haven’t even gone into mentally ill senior citizens.
The most common mental condition for old people is, as you may have guessed, dementia. About 4.7% of the world’s population above 60 years of age have dementia, and the number is expected to double every 2 decades, mainly due to the spike in those of low-income and middle-income households. The next most common condition is depression. Depressed older people show their symptoms somewhat differently from depressed youngsters. They may not be slashing their wrists, but their condition manifests in somatic ways — that is, they may have physical discomfort or be unwell a lot. Depressed senior citizens do commit suicide, so please be more attentive toward your older family members if they’re showing signs of depression.
Senior citizens also have problems of substance abuse. When you see an old man drinking a lot, you may not think of it as alcoholism, in the same way you’re concerned when a teenager drinks too much. However, do note that for older people, the effects of ageing and also other medication may actually induce in them a lower tolerance for alcohol, so that drinking the same amount as they did in the good old days just won’t cut it anymore.
I don’t know about you, but I find it really sad when an older person has gone through so many years of his life, and is just settling in and enjoying his retirement, when things happen and he contracts a mental illness. It’s as if they can’t enjoy the fruits of their labour, and are even enduring even more pain than they did in their prime. That said, I do have a strong implicit prejudice against the elderly, and much as I deny it, I do have a slight revulsion against them that I cannot explain. I’m not proud of that, but I hope that we cast aside whatever thoughts we may have about them, and show care for them as they would have for us. Who knows what we would need from our younger generation in the future?