Continuing my series of blogs on mental health in later life – which seems particularly pertinent in these dark November days of lockdown 2 – here are some more of the key points from the Mental Health Foundation’s very useful guide.
Talk about problems and concerns
Managing problems, difficulties and worries becomes easier if we talk about our concerns. It’s a good way to rationalise our thoughts and make sense of a situation or of how we feel. It can make us feel supported and not alone.
Who to talk to
Who you want to talk with depends on what’s worrying you. You could try:
- Friends and family
- Someone with specialist knowledge – perhaps someone with financial planning experience if you are struggling to meet the bills
- An impartial person – for instance, for concerns about care for your partner
- A person who promises confidentiality, such as a counsellor
Say what you feel
Talking about problems and concerns doesn’t mean you have to discuss your emotions, or lay yourself completely bare about how you’re feeling. Some people may find this helpful, while others prefer to keep conversations on a practical level. Talking about how you feel, or your emotions, isn’t a sign of weakness: it’s about taking charge of your wellbeing.
Listen and learn
Having a chat is never a one-way street. Sharing your thoughts can help others find the courage to talk about their problems. If you don’t want to talk about yourself, ask others how they feel. Hearing that others have similar worries and thoughts can make it easier to discuss something that’s bothering you.
Being able to talk with others should be an everyday event. Don’t put off having a chat, and avoid building it up to be a big event, like ‘we must talk about the wills’, as this can make it daunting for you and the other person. An ongoing conversation over days or weeks allows everyone time to think and give considered input.
Ask for help
Who do we ask or where do we go when we need help or advice?
Friends and family
Support from friends and family is invaluable. However, they may lack the specialist knowledge you need despite their best intentions.
Whether you need help fixing a leaky gutter or with managing limited finances, the following organisations can either help you directly or point you in the right direction.
- Age UK offers online and phone support on hundreds of topics, from making a will and care in your own home, to keeping active and learning to use the Internet. Visit www.ageuk.co.uk for more information on Age UK’s services.
- The Citizens Advice service helps people resolve their legal, money and other problems by providing free, independent and confidential advice. Visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk for more information, help and advice.
- Local councils offer services from adult education and parking permits for disabled people to housing grants and waste disposal, many of which are specifically for older residents.
- www.gov.uk provides information on a range of social and legal issues, such as trading standards, dealing with doorstep sales, reporting antisocial behaviour and finding local health services, as well as providing help for understanding money, tax, benefits and pensions.
Admitting that times are emotionally tough isn’t easy. Asking for help can be harder. Difficult feelings can stop you from getting on with life. Feeling down or anxious for prolonged periods doesn’t just impact on you, but can also affect those around you; for instance, if your mood or reactions are unpredictable.
- Samaritans provides confidential, non-judgmental emotional support 24 hours a day.
- Cruse Bereavement Care promotes the wellbeing of anyone affected by bereavement and enables bereaved people to understand their grief and cope with their loss.
- Your GP can help in practical ways, as well as offering a listening ear; for instance, they can recommend exercise therapy, counselling, help from a specialist, or support from another part of the health service.
- Counselling offers the opportunity to talk about issues in confidence and to create a structured plan to make a positive change to your life.
Think ahead and have a plan
Allowing an issue to become a constant worry can be bad for our mental wellbeing. Having a plan to deal with it puts us back in charge and can help improve how we feel.
What needs planning?
These are some things that can cause worry as you get older:
- Staying active, having a healthy life, and mobility
- The physical and mental health of ourselves and others
- Pensions and financial considerations
- Access to local facilities and transport
- Remaining independent and having control over our own life
- Caring for ourselves and others
- Wills, end of life, and funerals
It is also important to plan for pleasurable things, such as spending time with family, developing new hobbies, and enjoying your leisure time. If you don’t have a plan for your time, you may find that others plan it for you.
What a plan can do
A plan can help you think through all the aspects of a problem or situation. By preparing a plan, you are likely to expose and deal with many of your worries in advance. You may need to do some research, like finding out about the state pension, National Insurance top ups, pension credits, and buying an annuity.
The government’s website (www.gov.uk) is a good place to start when fact-finding. Your plan should have a clear aim, such as staying active. A regular review of your plan helps to make sure you are still on track. Include in your plan the sort of feelings you could experience and how you could deal with them. Discussing wills or care needs with loved ones may be emotional – how will you react?
Use your plan
How you use a plan is up to you – it’s for your benefit. Consider whether you want to write it down or not. This may depend on whether you want to share it with others. By having a plan, you always have something to refer back to and to use when you face a problem.
Of course, not everything can be planned for, and plans need to change as situations alter; for example, a change to the benefit system may affect your financial planning. Review and amend your plans as you need to.
Care for others
As we get older, we may find ourselves looking after grandchildren, elderly parents, partners, friends, or neighbours. Caring for others can keep relationships strong and people close. Helping others makes us feel needed and valued, as well as boosting our self-esteem. These things are good for our mental wellbeing.
What type of care?
Care could be looking after your grandchildren during school holidays, or the long-term and full-time care of your partner or elderly parents. Being a carer isn’t always easy. Many find it demanding both physically and emotionally. Looking after a loved one whose mental and/or physical health is deteriorating can present extra challenges for carers. If this issue affects you, contact your GP, Age UK, or your local social services. There is help and support widely available.
Who cares for us?
Caring for others can be rewarding, such as seeing your grandchildren taking their first steps or sharing a laugh with a neighbour. However, there can be stresses and strains along the way. Try not to overburden yourself with care responsibilities. Hard though it seems, it is alright to say ‘no’. Making time for yourself is good both for you and for the person you care for.
If you feel under pressure to keep saying ‘yes’, then contact Carers UK, Counsel and Care, or Crossroads Care for advice or help with respite care to enable you to recharge your batteries. A local carers’ support group may help to make you feel less isolated with your responsibilities. Talking with other carers helps to release frustrations, as they understand the pressures that caring can bring. There can also be opportunities to share resources, skills and knowledge so that everyone (other carers and the people you care for) benefits. The organisations mentioned above can help, and your GP or local council may know of local groups, services and facilities.
If you are interested in helping care for others locally, then the organisations listed above would be glad to hear from you. Voluntary schemes offer a range of help to people in the community; for instance, WRVS provides meals on wheels. To offer your help, visit www.do-it.org.uk for more information.