India’s rapid economic development has brought about great prosperity, much of which was attained through the sacrifice and hard work of a generation which is now retiring. Their dedication meant leading a busy life with very little time for themselves. Bigger dreams have meant, sending children to distant places in India or overseas, so that the latter could fulfill their goals and desires in life. Paradoxically, a smaller and well-connected digital world has only increased distances between families and societies. And amidst the hectic-paced life, agénération of retirees is now facing the challenge of coping with loneliness, as the time-tested family systems have broken down.
Retirement causes a sudden change in a well-established routine in the life of the person, which is often confusing and overwhelming. This is also accompanied by a loss of social connections and interactions within the peer group, leading to increased insecurity. The society also associates retirement with dependency, leading to a lowering of self-confidence and self-worth of the retired. In the earlier days, retirement meant spending quality time with family and enjoying the rest of one’s life however, now-a-days, retirements mean spending lone time as children in most families move out of the city. These massive changes are very difficult to handle and often lead to increased anxiety and depression. In the fast-moving society of today, this is a silently growing issue amongst the elderly section, which is not so much spoken about.
Lack of physical contact due to high travel costs has only increased the stress and anxiety levels of the parents. They visualize their future, without any support, but are reluctant to speak out due to various constraints. Conflicting desires of seeing their children prosper as well as to have physical proximity, further increases the stress on mental well-being. With growing life expectancy and increased settling down on next generation out of the native place, the empty house syndrome is all set to increase further. There is an urgent requirement to address the aspect of lack of social support for mental health in our country.
WHO estimates that over 20% of elders, over 60 face mental or neurological disorders. Challenges of declining physical capacity and functional abilities coupled with social isolation and reduced support from family and society leave the elders vulnerable. Loneliness is a major accelerator, leading to an early onset of mental health issues with Depression and Dementia, the two being two of the most common issues. In the early stages of mental health issues, people experience changes in their social life with friends and family becoming frustrated with them. They tend to not remember things like keys or how to get back from a new place with even routine activities becoming more difficult. People with dementia can sometimes become more aggressive or agitated when they don’t understand things that are happening to them or around them.
The biggest hindrance in diagnosis is often a person’s reluctance to accept that an issue exists. The reluctance can stem from societal pressure or financial constraints or lack of awareness about mental health. Due to a lack of knowledge, mental health issues among older adults often get overlooked or ignored. Elders are a high-risk group and therefore it is important to keep an eye on the state of their mental health.
Some of the mitigation measures include increased communication within family and increased awareness of mental health issues. Both the elder ones and their families should be ready to talk about the issue and accept that such a mental health issue is thriving within the family. It is significant to seek medical help and not relate medical help with any kind of social stigma. The focus should be to improve the emotional, physical and social well-being to create a happier environment. Adults in the family should always encourage the parents and elders to be socially active by involving themselves with neighbors, relatives and friends. Hobbies like reading, gardening, cooking or even devotional activities helps keep their minds sharp and active which boosts their confidence and increases positivity leading to reduced chances of any mental health issue.
While we all talk about mental health issues with the millennials of today’s generation, it’s important to understand that there is a generation which is older to us and need equal emotional support and attention.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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