Depression among elderly needs urgent attention

While physical ailments of the elderly are taken care of their mental health is hardly discussed

author_img Anupama Mili Published :  15th December 2021 12:18 PM   |   Published :   |  15th December 2021 12:18 PM

Image used for representational purpose.

KOCHI: During the last week of November, the Elderline helpline received a call from a Radha (name changed), a 62-year-old widow from Kottarakkara, Kollam. She said she didn’t want to stay alive anymore because her children — a son and daughter — don’t need her. The officials soon realised that Radha is going through a depressive phase, and the reason could be that she wasn’t engaged in an work all day. 

Radha’s husband died six years ago. She has been staying alone since. Though she used to socialise, the taboo on widows living a full life and lack of attention from her children limited her to the house. Negative thoughts shrouded her, and a slew of lifestyle diseases added to her burden. 

Understanding their struggle

“After visiting her, our call officer understood that her children used to blame her for everything that went wrong. The officer sat and listened to her carefully and consoled her. Upon building a strong rapport with Radha, the officer realised she likes cooking and making snacks. She was advised to engage in interesting activities and deviate from negative thoughts. Radha is following her interest now,” said Sreeja P M, programme manager of Elderline Kerala. While government homes under the Social Justice department take care of physical ailments and the basic needs of the elderly, their mental health is hardly discussed, she said.

Need for awareness

According to Dr Mohan Roy, psychiatrist and superintendent at Government Medical College Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram, mental health awareness is a pressing issue since 20 per cent of the world population is struggling with it. The presence of comorbidities and age-related problems make the matter worse for the older population. 

“If left untreated, these mental health issues can take a long time to fix, even with medication. Many children do not want to disclose that their parents are mentally ill/disturbed. This forces them to ignore their parents’ symptoms fearing social status, and they generally deem it as ‘just an old age’ thing. For lifestyle diseases, we prescribe exercise, diet and medicine. But will a depressed person can’t keep a diet or workout, so they end up depending on medicines,” the doctor said.

Post-pandemic struggle

According to experts, the fear of vaccination, media-driven anxiety, loneliness due to lockdown and lack of social interactions is damaging the mental health of older people. Making them take up hobbies and talking to them about how there is more to life, can help, say experts. “The main problem is that nobody is ready to listen to them. They feel that they do not have a role to play in the fast-paced society,” Dr Roy said.