Getting older is an inevitable part of life and something felt more acutely with rising life expectancy.

One consequence of living longer lives is health challenges as we enter the later stages of retirement or the winter season of our life.  Often these health challenges are focused around cognitive impairment, with dementia a big concern for some of Wells Gibson’s older clients.

One area of health that is often overlooked for older people and perhaps the majority of us, is mental health.  This can sometimes be considered to be a greater challenge for younger people, with support and resources usually targeted to this demographic.

New research for Saga has found that more than a third of their members reported an experience with mental health issues during their lifetime.  One in five of the more than 10,000 people surveyed reported that their mental wellbeing has declined as they got older.  The reasons for this decline in mental health in later life appear to be changes to our personal circumstances.  These are changes which can leave some individuals more vulnerable to feeling low, depressed or anxious.

According to Saga, the most common triggers for mental health problems for older people include grief from the loss of a loved one, loneliness, not feeling like themselves and a lack of identity brought about by leaving the workplace.  This final trigger for mental health problems is something to consider as you enter retirement, with the change in daily routine having a profound impact on some.

Talking about our mental health can be tough, with mental health still considered a taboo by many.  While younger people have become generally accepting that it’s good to talk about mental health, older generations still find it has a stigma attached and can even be considered a sign of weakness.  Men in particular tend to take a ‘bravado’ approach when it comes to mental health, with more women than men reporting an experience with a mental health issue.

The reluctance to discuss our mental health, especially in later life, could be behind the statistic that 85% of older people with depression receive no help from the NHS.  Older people are in fact a fifth as likely as younger people to have access to talking therapies, but six times as likely to be on medication.  In addition, while 50% of younger people with depression are referred to mental health services, only 6% of older people are.  Kevin McMullan, Head of Health Insurance for Saga said:

“Talking about mental health issues is clearly something that many people still shy-away from and it is important to remember that mental health is just as important as physical health.”

“With one in five of our members telling us that their mental health has declined as they got older it has never been more important for people to have the support they need in the way they need it. In fact, for many spending more time with family and friends can be all the support they need. However, it’s clear that for some the usual routes to seek support simply don’t work for them.”

This research demonstrates that mental health issues can be a real issue in retirement which in itself is one of life’s big transitions which we all need to plan for.  It’s so important to seek help when needed.