According to a report by Age UK, half of people over 55 have experienced mental health problems, but how many of us are even talking about it?
World Mental Health Day is here and it’s high time to talk about it. Especially as we Brits, with our stiff upper lip, have a history of ignoring mental health.
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 and if left unaddressed, it can lead to the worst.
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, however 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; 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 of poor mental health including a lack of appetite and fatigue if you're having trouble sleeping.
You don’t have to 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 who are 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 activity 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 7 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 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 sleeping 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.
At SunLife, we’re here to help you make the most of life after 50. For those interested, we also offer over 50 life insurance with no medical required and guaranteed acceptance.
Read more about why many people take out life cover later in life to give them peace of mind.