Three Million Could Face Mental Health Problems

{mosimage}More than three million pensioners will suffer from mental health problems by 2021 unless action is taken to promote mental wellbeing in the ageing population, according to a report put before the Scottish Parliament. It warns that elderly people are prone to suffer problems as a result of poverty, loneliness, and poor physical health, and called on local authorities, the Scottish Executive, and NHS to develop programmes to ensure they are kept engaged with society. The first report by the independent UK inquiry into mental health and wellbeing in later life, backed by Age Concern and the Mental Health Foundation, found there were 2.4 million elderly people in the UK with depression severe enough to impact on their quality of life.

But it warned that, as the population ages, this figure is likely to expand to 3.1 million by 2021, around 300,000 of whom are likely to be in Scotland, unless steps are taken to improve mental wellbeing.

Age Concern Scotland warned that age discrimination often acted as a barrier to participating in society. David Manion, the charity’s chief executive, said: “For too long, age discrimination has been tolerated and this report, and the experience of older people themselves, shows that this is denying older people the chance to enjoy later life. Age discrimination needs to be tackled so that older people can enjoy life to the full and society can reap the benefits that older people can contribute.”

The report’s authors found that elderly people were vulnerable to fear of isolation and loneliness, especially in circumstances where a person had been widowed or were not supported by a family network.

Lewis Macdonald, the Deputy Minister for Health, welcomed the report. He said: “Improving mental health and wellbeing in later life has been one of our specified priorities since 2003.”

The executive is due to publish a mental health delivery plan for Scotland by the end of the year which is expected to set out a timetable for improving services, including those for older people.

Sandra White MSP, convener of the cross-party group on age and ageing, said: “I welcome the calls to end poverty and discrimination in all walks of life and I will be working to ensure that the Scottish government fully implement the recommendations of this report.”

Liz Moffat, 75, who lives near Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, said having a strong social circle was an important factor in staying healthy in retirement. The Muirhead and District Seniors’ Forum, of which Mrs Moffat is a member, holds monthly tea dances, keep-fit classes, and day trips – all of which help to keep people engaged and active.

“We have a lot of people who are widows or have been left on their own. The longer you live, the more people you lose,” she said. Having contact with people who could share experiences helped to ward off loneliness. “Good company makes all the difference,” she added.