Mental health issues among our rapidly growing older population are reaching crisis proportions, but as is the case with many problems affecting the elderly, they are not being properly addressed.
There are many reasons why older people suffer from poor mental health, including anxiety, poor physical health and financial problems. One of the most common reasons, though, is loneliness, and this is something that doesn’t require money to solve, but far more valuable qualities such as compassion, care, family values and a sense of community.
There is much anecdotal evidence that the young and older generations have a greater rapport and fondness than exists between generations with smaller age gaps. It’s an inelegant phrase, but let’s call it ‘skipping a generation’ and look at how this can in many cases reduce the loneliness felt by older people and also increase their sense of self-worth.
In an ideal world, grandparents and grandchildren would spend time together, the young learning about family and social history, understand the achievements of older relatives, while the older family members would know better the changes going on in the world, how it looks from a young person’s view point and giving their younger loved ones support and experience on a range of issues they face from relationships to career advice.
While that may seem absurdly idealistic, it contains elements of a universal truth which is that the old should teach the young, and the young in return should respect and support the old.
Schools should do more to encourage and enable young people to identify lonely or isolated older members of their family or community – their grandparents or great grandparents generation – to ensure this relationship is as mutually beneficial as possible. This process would need to be properly structured, with the necessary safeguards built in, but the rewards would be huge. These would not just be the financial, for older people with a greater sense of self-worth and reduced loneliness would be less of a burden on the NHS, but also of the intangible values of greater family and social cohesion, respect for the elderly and imparting of wisdom that is likely to improve and enhance younger lives.