We all have times when we feel stress or grief, but it usually subsides. For people suffering mental illness, these feelings last much longer and are not normally brought on by everyday events.
That statement may surprise many people; largely because mental illness often goes unnoticed or ignored– even by friends and loved ones.
The symptoms are mainly hidden, and it can’t be tested for in the same way as physical illness. The stigma still attached to mental illness may prevent people from seeking help.
This is a problem, because one of the most effective ways to tackle mental illness is to recognise it early as possible.
For older people – and those receiving care for other conditions – it can be even harder to spot. Which makes it even more important that carers are aware of the signs.
According to the Office for National Statistics, at any given time, 10% of people older than 65 in the UK will have mental illness symptoms. And this figure doesn’t include those with dementia. Studies have also shown that 45% of people admitted into care homes will be suffering from depression.
Depression – usually a result of loneliness and isolation – and anxiety are the most commonplace mental health problems in the UK, while increased frailty can make these conditions even more challenging.
Mental illness, in older people, may manifest itself in ways which can easily be mistaken for physical ailments.
So, what are the signs carers should look out for?
They might include muscle tension, tingling and numbness, as well as shaking and sweating. Fear and anxiety can also bring on panic attacks, or an elevated heartbeat and rapid breathing.
Aside from physical symptoms, it’s important to be aware if someone becomes more irritable or confrontational, and if they start to show mood swings that are out-of-character.
Similarly, choosing to avoid other people, and changes to eating and sleeping habits could also be a sign of poor mental health. Other indicators could be agitation and restlessness, loss of interest in work or hobbies, increased dependency on drugs or alcohol or tiredness and lethargy.
If someone you care for is diagnosed with mental illness, there’s no right or wrong way to support them. Each instance will present unique challenges and the approach you take will depend on the person you care for.
However, it helps if you can understand them and how they feel as much as possible. This means being patient and encouraging them to be around other people, or to take part in sociable activities. And supporting them to become more independent will also help re-build confidence and self-esteem.
When someone is experiencing poor mental health they need people around them who can support them in accessing the services they need; and somebody who can help them to deal with the distress. Medical treatment is unlikely to be enough. We need to look at ways in which all aspects of care can promote good mental health in a holistic fashion.
One of the biggest challenges faced when talking about mental health is the funding and support that is available to those that suffer. Over 70% of people in the UK with anxiety and depression do not receive the help and support that they require. Over 2000 mental health beds have been lost since 2011. This can become a vicious cycle and in most cases when treatment is offered quickly it can often reduce the amount of funding required in the long run.
It is vital that those with anxiety and depression should be supported, but it is also important to support the carers, so that they don’t become isolated, overburdened and maintain their mental and physical wellbeing.
There are organisations that can help those that are suffering and also those that are supporting and caring;
Mind www.mind.org.uk 0845 7660163
Samaritans www.samaritans.org 08457 909090
Sane www.sane.org.uk 0845 7678000