According to World Health Organisation (WHO), the proportion of the global population aged above 60 years will almost double, from 12 per cent to 22 per cent, between 2015 and 2050. It has already been established that with old age, the human body becomes host to many diseases. Neurological and Mental disorders comprise 6.6 per cent of the total disabilities in the population above 60 years. Early intervention of mental health issues and prevention is one of the best methods to lower the overall burden on hospitals and medical facilities.
How Do You Define Mental Health?
Mental health is an umbrella term that includes our body’s emotional, social and psychological well-being. It impacts our thoughts, feelings and activities. It also influences how we cope with stress & anxiety, make our choices, and relate to others in society. Mental health should be taken care of at every stage of life, especially when you are above 60 years old. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), it is reported that about 15 per cent of adults who are aged above 60 years have a mental illness.
There are many factors which might contribute to mental health disorders:
- Biological factors like brain chemistry or genes
- Traumatic or abusive life experiences
- Family history of mental health issues.
- A serious medical condition, such as cancer
- Feeling of loneliness
- Overuse of recreational drugs or alcohol
What are the Different Types of Mental Illnesses?
There are various types of mental health illnesses. Below is a list of some common mental health disorders:
- Depression, bipolar disorder, and other mood disorders
- Personality disorders
- Anxiety disorders include panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other phobias.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Eating disorder
- Psychotic disorders like schizophrenia
What are the Signs of Mental Health Issues?
Knowing the signs of mental illness can help you detect the issues early before they worsen. Some of the symptoms are listed below:
- Intense Mood Swings: If you notice that your mood fluctuates without any major changes in the surrounding, this might indicate a mental health disorder. In bipolar disorder, the behaviour varies from high energy, low energy, loss of interest, depressive behaviour, etc.
- Social Isolation: If you feel like spending time alone rather than with your friends and family, this could be a major indicator of social phobias, depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems.
- Prolonged Feeling Of Sadness: It is natural to feel down or sad sometimes. But if the painful feeling continues for a long period, with other emotions like hopelessness, guilt, etc., this could be a major sign of depression. Other symptoms of depression include sleep issues, loss of self-esteem and not enjoying your day-to-day activities.
- Inexplicable Physical Problems: Some physical problems might occur due to underlying mental health issues. These physical symptoms include headaches, chronic pain, stomachaches, etc.
- Long-term Fatigue And Lack Of Energy: Feeling tired for extended periods could signify mental health issues. Your body tries to shut down when it cannot bear the stress and anxiety overload.
- Sudden Panic, Anxiety Or Fear: If you experience sudden chest pains, heart palpitations, dizziness, faintness, trembling, etc., this could be a sign of panic disorder.
- Substance Abuse: If you have recently started consuming a lot of alcohol, tobacco or other recreational drugs without any good reason, it could be a sign of mental health problems.
- Other signs and symptoms of mental illness include ongoing nightmares, substantial change in sleep or weight, flashbacks, persistent fears and worries, etc.
Treatment of Mental Health Issues
Many patients who suffer from mental health problems achieve recovery and strength through various treatment therapies conducted individually or in groups. There is no universal treatment method that works for everybody. Some get better by taking medicines, while others opt for psychotherapies. You can also opt for a combination of techniques to achieve better results. Below is some treatment for mental illness:
- Medication: Consuming medicines does not guarantee the cure of the underlying mental illness. However, it will help you to manage the symptoms of the disease.
- Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy is a treatment that explores feelings, thoughts and behaviour to improve the patient’s well-being. In combination with medication, psychotherapy is one of the most effective methods to promote recovery from mental health disorders.
- Case Management: When you suffer from a peculiar mental health issue, it is recommended to hire a case manager who helps in the assessment, planning and implementation of strategies to promote recovery.
- Support Group: A support group is a gathering of people with similar issues who navigate each other towards the common goal of recovery. These groups are often conducted by non-professionals who have previously suffered from a similar condition.
- Hospitalisation: In severe cases of some mental health issues, health care professionals recommend the hospitalisation of patients. This is done to ensure close monitoring, accurate diagnosis and timely medications.
- Complementary And Alternative Medicine (CAM): As the name suggests, complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) are taken in place of or in addition to the standardised medication for a specific illness. You need to take care that the CAM does not react with standard medicine if you take them together to cause bad side effects.
- Self-Help Plan: A self-help plan is a self-monitored plan where you assess your illness by incorporating mental health programs that promote recovery and wellness.
- Peer Support: Peer support involves getting help from people who have gone through the same or similar mental health conditions.
- Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT): Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is an advanced procedure where the patient undergoes a generalised seizure through an electric stimulus. It is generally administered to patients with severe mental health issues.
Early Intervention & Prevention of Mental Health Issues in Older Adults
Preventive efforts to avoid mental health disorders before they occur are a reassuring approach to reducing global disease occurrence.
- Be Attentive To Early Signs: Consult a medical professional to understand the factors that trigger your illness. Make an action plan to follow when the symptoms of your illness return. Seek help from friends and family to monitor early signs of mental illness.
- Routine Checkups: At an old age, you should consult a health care professional regularly. This applies not only to mental health but all kinds of body health. Regular checkups help in the early detection of symptoms which can get worse if left unchecked.
- Seek Medical Help On Time: It becomes more difficult to treat mental health issues if you wait until the symptoms worsen. You should seek medical help for mental health issues as soon as the symptoms occur.
- Pharmacological Prevention: Anti-depressants are a very common medicine prescribed to patients suffering from depression. A recent study discusses the possibility of preventive benefits of Anti-depressants for relapse in older adults. However, anti-depressants are known to induce other side effects like irregular sleep in older adults.
- Psychotherapy: Most psychotherapies utilise a cognitive behavioural framework that targets abnormal thoughts and levels of activities to restate the patient’s thought process and finally change his behaviour. Another approach known as problem-solving therapy aims to curb depression by focusing on a flawed assessment of problems and teaching skills to resolve the issues effectively. These psychotherapies can lower the chances of anxiety and depression disorders. Still, the therapy sessions are time-taking and might require older adults to travel to a mental health therapist.
- Preparation Of Healthcare Providers: Healthcare providers and medical professionals must be prepared to meet the specific needs of the older population. These preparations include:
- Training of professionals to take care of old people
- Developing customised services and therapies for old people
- Developing policies for long-term care for older people.
Advantages of Early Intervention & Prevention of Mental Health Issues
The advantages of early intervention and prevention of mental health problems are as follows:
- Decrease the occurrence of mental illness
- Reduce the cost of health care
- Improve the general well-being of people
- Decrease the risk of complications associated with mental health issues
What Can Happen if the Mental Illness Goes Untreated?
If mental health issues are left unchecked, it can lead to any of the following complications:
- Social isolation
- Excessive use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs
- Homelessness and poverty
- Heart disease and other medical issues
- Conflict in relationships
- Unhappiness and less enjoyment in general
- Self-harm or harm to others, including homicide and suicide
Mental health issues are more common than you think, and much help is available in modern society. The exact cause of mental health problems is still unknown, but some known factors can lead to such issues as family history, traumatic life experiences, etc. There are various signs and symptoms of mental illness, such as mood swings, substance abuse, physical endangerment, etc. There is no one treatment method which can treat all types of mental health problems. It is much easier to prevent or cure mental health issues at an early stage rather than when it gets severe. There are many misconceptions about mental health in our society which demotivates people suffering from such problems to come up and seek help. We, as a society, should normalise mental health problems and try to come up with more ways to ease the life of people suffering from mental health issues.
What shouldn’t you say to a person who is stressed?
If someone is stressed or suffering from another mental health issue, you should not make them feel bad about themselves by saying things like:
- It’s all in your head
- Snap out of it
- This too shall pass
- Come on things could be worse etc.
What is the difference between mental illness and mental disorder?
A mental illness is a distinct condition which is measurable. In contrast, a mental disorder might point toward a mental illness, but there is insufficient medical evidence for an accurate diagnosis. Generally, it takes longer to diagnose mental conditions than mental illnesses.
Why is it so hard to understand the concept of mental health?
The signs and symptoms of mental illness can be easily hidden from the public eye. People appear as if everything is normal, whereas there are in emotional turmoil from the inside. This makes it difficult to understand the mental well-being of a person.
Is mental illness a disease?
Mental illness is not a disease but a medical condition similar to diabetes or high blood sugar. It is a shame that our society has so much mental health stigma.
How do you explain the concept of mental illness to a person who doesn’t understand it?
While talking to someone who doesn’t understand mental illnesses, you should make sure of the following:
- Manage your expectations
- Prepare your explanation beforehand
- Have peer support as a backup
- Ask open-ended questions like, How does this make you feel?” Or “Is there anything that you would like to ask