Let Us Talk About Mental Health

I attended a focus group yesterday ‘Let us talk about Mental Health’. It was organised by Age Uk and the GLF ( Greater London Forum for Old People)   for a programme of  the National Development Team for Inclusion. The three-year programme ‘Leaders for Change in Mental Health’  aims are:

– Build the confidence, skills and capacity of older people who use mental health services. – To lead and influence change in their own lives and in wider service developments.         – Increase the voice, visibility and influence of older people with mental health problems.    – Develop and test innovative ways of promoting and enhancing mental health and wellbeing  later life in the two participating areas.                                                                                     – Increase  awareness, understanding and  education about mental ill-health in later life. A key element of the work will be to tackle the stigma, fear, and isolation that many older people with mental health problems experience.

The morning was very instructive. The first point that was interesting was that the facilitator had to stress a few times that this session was NOT about Alzheimer’s. This immediately made me conscious of my own bias of equating mental illness in the old with dementia.

We were then given facts and figures about the degree of discrimination against the old in the field of Mental Health. It is staggering. In the field of depression  for example 1 in 4 people live with depression, only 25% are diagnosed and less than 2% are referred to primary care psychological therapy. This is only one example, figures about other mental illnesses are as devastating.

We then discussed what needs to change to remedy this state of serious discrimination.

The NDTI (National Development Team for Inclusion) three years programme of training older people to  ‘ Increase awareness and understanding , agree local priorities for change, including tackling stigma, negative attitudes and stereotypes about age and mental illness and influence local service development and delivery’ is commendable. It is all too rare to empower old people to have a voice and fight for their rights.

During our discussions however at our table, isolation, and the lack of resources at the first point of access, the GP, were the main issues to be considered. We live in a climate of drastic services cuts. Day centres, libraries, community services are being dismantled and the GP consultation is limited to 10 mins and one issue. Hardly conditions that facilitate the observation of people who need psychological support and help. There is  a crisis in social care, care workers are badly paid and sometimes badly trained. No amount of consciousness raising on its own would help changing the situation of mental health neglect but  also diverting major resources into community projects might.

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