In a country with a huge mental illness crisis, the mental traumas a senior citizen deals with are barely taken into consideration. India is a country with 104 million senior citizens according to 2011 census and has the fastest growing elderly population.
The Agewell foundation, Lajpat Nagar works for the welfare of older people by providing them with healthcare facilities along with free helpline and employment exchange for old retired people.
Himanshu Rath, Chairman of the foundation says that not only does the body gets deteriorated in the old age, but, due to the alienation of an entire generation from the mainstream society, mental health also gets deteriorated.
“Whatever the mind desires, the body does not support in the old age. Consequently, the feeling of self-doubt evokes within the elderly. Moreover, due to fast-paced life, the children can rarely act as caregivers to their elderly parents hence loneliness is a common reason for deteriorated mental health,” says Mr. Rath.
Doctor Navin Kumar, Department of Psychology, Bhim Rao Ambedkar College, Delhi says that the age-specific stereotypes thrust upon the elderly increases the divide between the generations and leads to the alienation of the elderly. “The feeling of ‘us’ and ‘them’ increases as the age-specific stereotypes such as what and when to eat, what to watch on the television etc. is thrust upon the elderly. This happens when the elderly are dealing with the abrupt changes in their physiology and lifestyles. In the midst of coping up with the conditions, their mental health gets imbalanced.” says Doctor Navin Kumar.
The foundation provides the elderly with a helpline number. Mr. Rath says that the helpline provides them with an opportunity to unburden themselves. “The elderly have a lot of problem in opening up with the volunteers on the helpline. They have a feeling that nobody listens to them. They talk to us not with an idea of getting help but to unburden themselves.” says Rath.
Along with proper counselling for the senior citizens, taking steps to create sensitivity for the mental health issues among the elderly and generating better inter-generational relationships will help build a healthy society for the elderly to live in says Dr Navin Kumar.