As we get older we go on having good mental health and wellbeing as well as having spells when it is not so good.  Last year, when we asked older people what their tips were for good mental wellbeing, people told us about all the good things in their life and about how they used their life experience to help them cope with the difficulties they encountered.  We heard about everything from spending time with family and friends, to learning new crafts, to Dolly Parton tribute nights. They called these their Happiness Habits, rather than Tips for Wellbeing – partly because they wanted to make the positive message explicit and partly because they thought that most older people would not like to use the term mental health.

We are also more likely to experience periods of mental health illness as we get older.  When we think about it, this is understandable. There are more difficult situations such as poor physical health, loss of roles, money worries and anxiety about whether we will still be able to stay in the home and community we know.  And then there is becoming socially isolated and loneliness – not the only factor, but part of difficulties that some older people are facing.

There are also people who have grown older with mental health problems being part of their life.

So when we do become unwell, do we get the support and treatment that will help us recover?  Well no, or at least not as often or as easily as younger adults do.  Services for people with mental health problems who are aged over 60 in most Health Board areas are less well resourced than either services for younger adults or services for people with dementia.

In some places there are great sources of community support and peer support, while in other places there are very few options for older people who have poor mental health and wellbeing. There are good examples of projects and services that are helping people manage their symptoms and their well being, but other older people don’t know about these approaches.

Earlier this year we hosted conversations around older people’s access to services and community supports.  People talked about places where there are good supports, their frustrations with the gaps in what is available, and the ways in which they want to develop more and better supports.  We talked about the factors that make it a challenge – attitudes among older people to talking about mental health problems and seeking help, misunderstandings about the types of support and treatment that are available now, assumptions on the part of health care and others about poor mental wellbeing as an inevitable part of ageing, pressure on resources, the way in which support for this group of people is not included in targets and priorities that are set in national policies.

Outside the Box is now supporting 2 projects that will help raise awareness and find solutions.  Both are funded by the Scottish Government – one through the Equalities Fund and one through the Self-Management Fund.

The first is a series of conversations in local areas, where people can explore the issues, what is available and the gaps, and the potential for working together to develop new ideas.

The second – ‘Flourishing Borders’ – is in Scottish Borders, where we are piloting activities that help older people manage their mental health and wellbeing.

Can you help us?

We want to hear what other people are doing and your experiences.

We are looking for people who want to be part of the conversations by joining other people or hosting a conversation.

We are also looking for people who will help us share what we learn from these projects, with others in your group or organisation and with other people in your area.