Greater awareness, overcoming the stigma of mental illness is essential for the well-being of older people: experts

After suffering a huge loss in his real estate business in 2010, then 62-year-old Pallav Gautam (name changed) descended into a spiral of irritability, sleep disturbances and temper tantrums as his family tried to useless to make sense of his behavior.

Whenever his wife Shanti (name changed) and children tried to persuade him to see a doctor, he would say, “Do you think I’m crazy?”

”He refused to see a doctor, then one day he became abnormally calm and stopped talking to anyone. It was very disturbing to see him like this.

“Later we managed to get him to a doctor,” Shanti told PTI.

Gautam’s family took him to the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience, Delhi (NIMHANS), where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and prescribed medication.

Experts say Gautam is not an isolated case and elderly people in many Indian homes with mental health issues live in denial.

The denial of mental illness is a major problem, more prevalent among older people than younger people, senior psychiatry consultant Dr. Dharmendra Singh told PTI on Sunday on the eve of World Mental Health Day.

“There are many reasons people don’t want to come to terms with their mental illness, including dependency on loved ones, social stigma and financial circumstances,” he said.

Suggestions from family members about dealing with mental health issues often elicit angry reactions from older people, he said.

The 2015-2016 National Mental Health Survey (NMHS) found that older adults had a higher lifetime (6.93%) and current (3.53%) prevalence of depressive disorders compared to younger adults (4.96% and 2.54%). .

The NMHS report also highlighted the huge burden of mental health issues. While nearly 150 million Indians needed mental health services, less than 30 million sought care, according to the report.

Another study by the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, found that in 2017, 197 million Indians suffered from mental disorders. Among them, 46 million suffered from depression and 45 million from anxiety disorders.

The contribution of mental disorders to the total burden of disease doubled between 1990 and 2017, according to the report.

Dr PT Sivakumar, head of geriatric psychiatry at NIMHANS, said there was a great lack of awareness of the most common mental health problems of depression and dementia in older people.

”The common symptoms of anxiety, irritability, lack of sleep and memory loss are considered normal, especially in the Indian context. In most cases, people continue to live in denial due to lack of awareness,” Sivakumar said.

He said mental health issues had been exacerbated during the coronavirus-induced lockdown as a general sense of loneliness and anxiety gripped people, especially older people living away from their families.

A study by HelpAge India in June 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, found that 60% of 5,000 respondents felt lonely and 40% were already very depressed.

According to a more recent survey by the NGO, of the 1,500 elderly respondents residing in institutions and community settings in Delhi-NCR, 57% reported depressive disorders and 40% moderate anxiety.

More than 20% of adults aged 60 and over suffered from mental or neurological disorders, the most common being dementia and depression, he said.

Another obstacle to the mental well-being of older people in India is the “grossly insufficient” health workforce.

According to HelpAge India, only two in 10 older people with mental health conditions receive any kind of help.

Dr Ritu Rana, Head of Mission – Health Care, HelpAge India, said that India “does not have any program, policy or program at the national level focused on geriatric mental health”.

”Inadequate mental health facilities and mental health professionals, lack of awareness, stigma attached to mental health issues are some of the challenges we face at a societal level while addressing mental health in general and simultaneously when it comes to the mental health of the elderly,” Rana told PTI.

To address the lack of psychiatric support for the elderly, HelpAge India and NIMHANS have come together to train 10,000 mental health workers under an initiative called ‘Saarthak’.

The project aims to build community support for geriatric mental health care by building the capacity of 10,000 non-specialist health workers and community caregivers over a one-year period and then expanding them.

Along with prompt medical intervention and consistent professional care, patients with mental illnesses need the support of family and friends.

”After the diagnosis, it is very important to follow the medication. The patient should not be judged for their condition and given full support. They should also indulge in their hobbies, take walks and try to be around other people,’ Dr Dharmendra Singh suggested.

These are some of the things that also helped Gautam regain his old self.

Twelve years later, he leads a peaceful life with his family and spends time reading and writing.

”He’s also a very good poet,” said Shanti with a hint of pride in her voice.

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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