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It's time to talk about mental health

Last reviewed 25th October 2023
5 min read

According to Age UK, half of people over 55 have experienced mental health problems, but how many of us are even talking about it?

We Brits, with our stiff upper lip, have a history of ignoring mental health( opens in a new tab).

Being healthy, or feeling well, is about more than being physically fit and getting the sign off from a doctor. It's about how we think and feel, which includes feeling good mentally.

Many of us feel we can't talk about our thoughts and feelings. However when over half of us have experienced mental health problems, it's clear that it's important to start talking.

Having poor mental health can make day-to-day living a real struggle. It's important that we talk about mental health, and can identify the signs in ourselves or others.

Mental health later in life

Having poor mental health is dangerous at any age, but we may be particularly vulnerable as we get older.

There are a number of changes we have to face later in life that can have an impact on our emotional wellbeing. So it's understandable that so many of us are experiencing poor mental health.

Things like retirement can be difficult to deal with. We might find ourselves suddenly a lot less busy, with a lot less social contact.

If we've spent our lives working, it can knock our sense of purpose to be without a constant job.

Making plans and filling our time with things like family and hobbies is key to good retirement preparation. It's also a good idea to think about other issues that might cause issues later in life.

Plan ways to stay active and maintain a healthy physical life, ways to remain independent and keep caring for yourself. Consider your financial needs later in life and any other considerations that might cause you to worry.

With half of over 55-year-olds experiencing mental health problems, it's important that we have a plan and put ourselves in charge.

What do mental health problems look like?

Mental health problems can be experienced in a variety of different ways. Whether that's feeling down, anxious, more emotional than usual, or even reacting to things in ways we wouldn't normally.

Our mental health impacts the way we think, feel and behave. It can take time for us to become aware of these changes, and sometimes it's the people around us who will be the first to notice that something is wrong.

Often there can be no outward signs at all. And even if we do notice a change in how we feel inside, we might pretend that everything is normal so as not to worry anyone or draw attention to ourselves.

But we wouldn't leave a broken leg to go unattended, so why wouldn't we give our mental state the same attention and care?

What are the main things to look for?

Mental health problems have different symptoms depending on the condition. It can be hard to notice the warning signs and often they can be both psychological and physical.

You might notice some core psychological symptoms( opens in a new tab) such as low mood, lack of energy, low self-esteem and even suicidal thoughts.

But these are just a few of the symptoms of mental health issues. There are often more and you don't have to have all of them at the same time.

You can also experience some physical signs( opens in a new tab) of poor mental health, including a lack of appetite and fatigue if you're having trouble sleeping.

You don't have to display all of them to be experiencing mental health problems, but if you do notice changes to your physical or psychological wellbeing then it might be worth speaking to someone about it.

It's also normal that we might feel a number of these ways from time to time in daily life. But if you're experiencing several of them on a frequent or constant basis it's important not to brush this off as normal.

What can trigger a change in mental health?

Sometimes there doesn't have to be anything at all to trigger a change in mental health. These things can just creep up on us without us even realising.

However, it's also usual for a difficult situation or event to trigger a change in our mental wellbeing.

Things like the death of a loved one, money troubles, retirement and poor physical health can be causes of problems with mental health.

What should you do if you notice a change?

It's important to try to talk to someone about how you're feeling. Whether it's a partner, family member or close friend, it can be really helpful to speak to someone about what's going on in your head.

There are plenty of charities and organisations who help people suffering from mental health problems. Even reading one of their websites can be helpful as it reminds us that we're not alone in how we're feeling, and they can give useful advice on what to do or who to contact.

If you're experiencing intense symptoms or symptoms that last for more than two weeks, speak to your doctor and explain how you're feeling.

What can I do to look after my mental wellbeing?

Physical PDF downloads can have a massive impact on positive mood. Try to make sure you get regular exercise into your weekly routine.

You don't have to hit the gym seven times a week. It can be something as simple as gardening, going for a brisk walk, or doing some stretches. Try cycling for a great no-impact exercise to enjoy at any age.

Poor sleep( opens in a new tab) can also really affect our mental health, so try to make sure you get a good night's sleep as often as possible.

If you're struggling to get to sleep at night, try limiting your caffeine intake and reducing time looking at your screens. Try reading as a relaxing way to wind down before bed – just make sure it's nothing too thrilling.

Exercise and good sleep can go hand in hand, so try to ensure you've got a good balance to give you the best chance to feel good.

Eating well is also a must when it comes to taking care of both physical and mental wellbeing, so try to have a healthy, balanced diet to give yourself the best boost from the inside out.

Infographic about mental health for over 50s

Image titled, Mental Health for over 50s. What's the problem? Depression. Almost half (7.7 million) of UK adults over 55 have experienced depression. 1/4 of over 65s live with depression. Over 20% of people with anxiety or depression say it got worse as they got older. Older people with depression are 8 times less likely to seek professional help than younger people. 9 out of 10 people over 55 receive no treatment for mental or emotional problems. Mental health issues account for nearly a quarter of UK diseases, but only 11% of the NHS budget. Loneliness. Loneliness is a major cause of mental health problems among over 50s. 72% of older people think connecting more with others would help. For 16% of over 50s becoming lonelier is their biggest worry for the future. 39% of over 55s think social media has caused issues of loneliness and isolation to become worse. Over 50s are more than 5 times more likely to be lonely if they are widowed. Almost one fifth of over 50s are living alone (6% are widowed). Older people continue to face attitudes that low mood and depression are just a part of ageing. This couldn't be further from the truth. Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director, Age UK. Loneliness and depression 5 ways to beat it! 1. Take regular exercise e.g. yoga, swimming, exercise class. 2.Try to eat healthily. More fruit and veg, less sugary or processed foods. 3. Drink more water. Consume less alcohol. 4. Get out and meet people e.g. clubs, classes. 5. Keep your mind active. Learn a new skill or take up a new hobby. Be healthy, be happy! And don't be afraid to ask for help. If you or someone you know are experiencing mental health problems, speak to your GP or a mental health professional. For advice online, visit


Age UK: Mental health problems( opens in a new tab) | Mental health support( opens in a new tab) | Loneliness( PDF downloads)

NDTI( opens in a new tab) | NHS( opens in a new tab)

The thoughts and opinions expressed in the page are those of the authors, intended to be informative, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SunLife. See our Terms of Use for more info.