We’ve seen mental health issues thrust into the headlines over the past 2 years. The pandemic’s impact compounded the stresses millions across the globe were already feeling. There’s no time for complacency. This year’s World Mental Health Day, taking place on the 10th of October, is more important than ever before. Organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), it’s a chance to redouble our efforts to improve our mental health. Discover more as the Comfort Keepers team examines the issues playing on our mental health and learn how to manage them through adjustments to the homecare and healthcare of a loved one.
Mental Health Services Under Strain
Even before COVID-19, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that 1 in 8 of us was living with a mental disorder. Research suggests that rates of both anxiety and depression rose more than 25 percent during the pandemic. Mental health services in many countries have simultaneously faced severe disruption, making the waiting times for mental health treatment even longer. This has created a perfect storm of social inequality, drawn-out conflicts and public health emergencies. These are affecting entire populations along with rising violence and economic disparities. Together, these all make tackling mental problems even harder. A staggering 84 million people worldwide became forcibly displaced in 2021. The effect on the mental health of many of them in particular is likely to have been profound. But, even today, stigma and discrimination can still be a barrier to social inclusion. That includes access to the right kind of care.
An Assessment of Mental Health in Ireland
According to a recent study by Maynooth University, Trinity College Dublin, and the National College of Ireland, more than 40 percent of Irish adults are suffering with a mental health disorder of some kind.
Experts note the study as the first of its kind, involving deep research and appraisals of various mental health disorders being experienced across the country. Its conclusions are stark and alarming.
Insomnia was the most common issue. Following closely behind were:
- Severe depression
- Alcohol use disorder
- General anxiety
Younger people make up the greatest proportion of those suffering from one of these problems. There were likely to have been roughly 10,000 attempted suicides in Ireland in 2021. Mental health professionals have long flagged suicide as the leading silent killer.
And yet, experts say the psychiatric services in Ireland are in dire need of a “radical overhaul.” This applies particularly, they say, to those services used by children and adolescents. The College of Psychiatrists of Ireland talks of a crisis across the entire psychiatric system. It says the emergency is leaving the provision of services in what it calls a “dire state.”
The Mental Well-Being of Ireland’s Elderly
Another recent study concluded that the pandemic overshadowed the needs of older people the most. Their voices often went unheard and their support systems became impaired.
The School of Nursing and Midwifery in Trinity College Dublin uncovered a range of uncomfortable facts. Many of the restrictions on older people led to increased loneliness, boredom, and social exclusion. This, they say, had a negative impact on their day-to-day lives as well as on their physical and mental health.
There are links between a lack of social interaction and an increased risk of dementia, along with poorer physical and mental well-being and reduced cognitive functioning.
Loneliness: A Major Public Health Concern
Studies say more than thirty percent of older Irish adults say they feel lonely some of the time. Feelings of loneliness are most common among the over-75s and those living by themselves.
Depression often goes hand in hand with such loneliness. Many people who are lonely also display symptoms of depressive illness.
A significant proportion of Ireland’s elderly has little or no social contact with others. This is especially true in Dublin and rural areas but even those who have lots of social contact still say they can feel lonely and isolated from time to time.
Loneliness is a cause for increased public health concern. There is powerful evidence that feeling lonely is damaging to the health and well-being of older adults.
Homecare Services for Better Mental Wellbeing
So, what can we do to help? Ireland’s HSE can offer a range of Home Support Services delivered by themselves or an approved provider like Comfort Keepers. You can find out more about the services here and about choosing your preferred provider here.
Companionship care is among the many services CK is able to offer. This can make a world of difference to the mental well-being of an older person who may feel isolated and alone.
It can also be a highly effective addition to social interactions an older person may already have. These could be with family, friends or the wider community.
The Benefits of Companionship Care
Our highly-trained healthcare assistants play an integral part in our healthcare teams. They understand how encouraging meaningful connections can help support an independent lifestyle.
The clinically led CK team will come up with a plan that fits a person’s individual needs. They can also assist with a broad range of other home support services. These include help with:
- Meal preparation
- Light housework
- Running errands
- Managing incontinence
- Adherence to taking prescribed medicines
Our healthcare assistants will work with older people to improve their cognitive functions. They can do this in a tangible and practical way by joining in with puzzles, games and quizzes, for example. They will also help with a plan that encourages an appropriate type and level of physical exercise.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia
It’s quite common for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s to experience bouts of depression and anxiety. They may also lack the motivation to perform tasks they once found meaningful.
Along with negative feelings, a person with dementia who also has depression may suffer from other issues. These can include problems with their memory. Their ability to think can deteriorate. Depression can make any changes to a dementia sufferer’s behaviour more challenging. They can become agitated and aggressive.
They may also have difficulties sleeping and refuse to eat properly. For those in the later stages of dementia, symptoms of depression can often include bouts of tearfulness and weight loss.
Comfort Keepers’ homecare assistants can make a significant contribution by:
- Engaging with their clients
- Ensuring a balanced diet that is adequate for a healthy lifestyle
- Helping with sleep-related issues
- Boosting overall motivation
Some symptoms of depression can be very similar to those associated with dementia. These include becoming withdrawn and having difficulty concentrating.
Improving the mental health of someone with dementia will help them achieve a better overall quality of life. The CK homecare team can help elderly people with dementia who also have depression by:
- Encouraging a daily routine they find reassuring
- Supporting regular physical activity
- Reducing feelings of social isolation
- Listening to reminiscences and life story activities
- Providing focused one-to-one interaction
- Making changes to the environment eg: reducing bright lights and loud noises
Mental Health Awareness in Ireland
It’s important to stress that feelings of loneliness are not an inevitability of old age in Ireland. There is plenty we can all do to help stave it off.
Our local communities are often ideal settings to find useful resources. They help to promote mental well-being by providing:
- Outdoor spaces to encourage more physical activity
- Social groups for opportunities to connect with others
- Places where we can participate in the arts or creative hobbies
When we are not feeling our best mentally, it can be easy to overlook the opportunities that may be right on our doorstep. We may even lack the enthusiasm to look for them ourselves.
The friends and relatives of elderly loved ones can help. They can step in to do some research and find out about opportunities that encourage social inclusion in the local area. They can use this as a chance to inspire an uptake in social activities.
Embracing Digital Technology
Much gets written about the negative impact social media can have. Too much time spent posting, commenting and reacting to other people we may not even know can certainly be detrimental to our mental health.
However, used wisely, the internet can play an integral part in reducing feelings of loneliness. It can also increase cognitive function through learning. We can use the internet to help by:
- Making regular times to connect visually with friends and family
- Restricting the use of social media as a messaging mechanism only
- Participating with others in an online physical exercise programme
- Learning a new language in real-time with an online teacher
- Joining a craft group to learn a new skill or take up a new hobby
You are never too old to improve your digital skills and there is help available out there for those who want to learn more. For example, Age Action Ireland offers a free computer training programme to those over the age of 55 all over Ireland.
Homecare and Improved Mental Health
Comfort Keepers can play a significant role in improving the mental well-being of elderly loved ones. Its homecare and healthcare services have a focus on mental health awareness. World Mental Health Day is an excellent opportunity to draw attention to the support our loved ones may need. Find out more about how CK can help in the fight to combat loneliness and improve the mental health of older people. Get in touch with CK today for more information.