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Community News The Increasing Importance Elders Mental Health

The increasing importance of older persons mental health

Sonder’s Clinical Mental Health Interns, Stephanie Laurence and Lynda Morphett recently presented a seminar to the Jack Young Centre Friendship Group in Salisbury, about mental health and healthy ageing.

The seminar incorporated information and discussion on why it is important for older adults to age positively, both physically and mentally. Stephanie and Lynda emphasised that age is ‘just a number’ and highlighted statistics that showed that around 72% of the older population report good health and 67% do not use aged care services.

One vital aspect of healthy aging is mental health. Good mental health is a holistic state of wellbeing in which every individual can realise their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and contribute to the community. Whilst most people over 50 have good mental health, many are at risk of developing mental disorders, neurological disorders or substance use problems as well as other health conditions such as diabetes, hearing loss, and osteoarthritis.

Older people may experience life stressors common to all people, but also stressors that are more common in later life, like a significant ongoing loss in capacities and a decline in functional ability. For example, older adults may experience reduced mobility, chronic pain, frailty or other health problems, for which they require some form of long-term care. In addition, older people are more likely to experience events such as bereavement, or a drop in socioeconomic status with retirement. All of these stressors can result in isolation, loneliness or psychological distress in older people, for which they may require long-term care.

Mental health has an impact on physical health and vice versa. For example, older adults with physical health conditions such as heart disease have higher rates of depression than those who are healthy. Additionally, untreated depression in an older person with heart disease can negatively affect its outcome.

It is estimated that approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental disorder and will experience symptoms of anxiety or depression at some point in their life. The seminar emphasised the importance of promoting good mental health, and discussed strategies such as getting enough sleep, staying mentally active and maintaining social connections. The audience was invited to participate in a progressive muscle relaxation exercise, a mind-body technique that involves slowly tensing, and then relaxing every muscle group in the body in order to release stress. At the end of the session, the group was provided with information about how to access support for mental health concerns, in the event that things do not improve. Including the option of making a visit to their regular GP to ask for a referral to Sonder to receive up to 12 free counselling services.

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