Guest post by Hershal Pandya, Project Officer, International Federation on Ageing (IFA)
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Last Week (October 10th, 2013) marked the occasion of World Mental Health Day as designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Federation of Mental Health (WFMH). This year’s theme is “Mental Health and Older Adults.” To commemorate the occasion, IFA Blogger Mr. Hershal Pandya has written this piece:For some time now, I’ve been wrestling with the idea of pre-determinism; the notion that an individual’s choices are predetermined by his/her collective wealth of experiences. Of course, I know that humans are autonomous creatures with the liberty to learn from their experiences and choose their own destiny, but really, how much control does a person have over the decisions they make in the moments they make them? This may sound strange, but bear with me for a moment as I explain. Think back to every bad decision you’ve ever made in your life; the late night coffee that kept you up when you had to be awake early, the procrastination of an assignment which led you to rush your work and receive negative feedback, the purchase of a luxurious item which did not add to your life or retain its value, etc.
We’ve all made multiple bad decisions like these in the face of overwhelming evidence which informs us of the consequences ahead of time. The question is why.Are we just an unintelligent species? Are we too focused on instant gratification? While this latter piece is probably one part of the explanation, I’d argue that there’s more to it.
In retrospect, it is always easy to regret a decision made in the past. As the saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20.” At the moment of making each decision, however, it seems we do not have this same insight. The choices we make in our lives can be characterized as a subconscious product of everything we have seen, heard, and experienced throughout its course. The phrase “If I were in that person’s shoes, I’d do differently” is always illogical, because if you were in that person’s shoes, you would have lived the same life as that person, experienced the same things, and thus, arrived at the same decisions. This is an idea I’ve struggled with for some time. How do we judge others so freely when we will never be able to understand the thought process that leads to their decisions? Finally, I’m getting around to the topic of this post; mental health.
Once you can accept the premise that it is an individual’s breadth of experiences which informs all of his/her life choices, you can begin to understand the need for promotion of mental health in everyday life. It is the way in which a person views, understands, and interprets these experiences which shapes how he/she makes decisions moving forward. Perhaps a person who is having difficulties finding the motivation to get out of bed each morning could solve this problem if a counsellor were to help him/her find a new perspective. Perhaps a person who continues to make bad choices despite increasing consequences could speak to a trained psychologist to learn that there are steps he/she can take to break out of the cycle. The reality is that when a majority of people hear the term “mental health”, their mind jumps to media perpetuated stereotypes about schizophrenia, OCD, autism, etc, and they do not think about how much mental health affects every single person on a daily basis. While the conditions I named as examples obviously require more awareness and research directed towards them, this does not diminish the need to place an equal amount of attention on promoting mental health amongst those without diagnosed mental conditions.
The same can be said of mental health in the older population. In this case, however, the stereotype is different. When people hear about older people with mental health issues, their mind immediately jumps to thoughts of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s almost as if people believe that older people are a completely different species and are incapable of experiencing the same mental health issues as the rest of the population. In fact, the documented experiences of many older people lend credence to the idea that this subset of the population is more likely to be affected by these issues than other groups. Consider the numerous studies about the detrimental effects of loneliness and isolation in older age. Consider the troublesome reality of living to an age where you see many of your friends and peers pass away. Consider the feeling of frustration that inevitably follows the realization that your body no longer responds to physical cues the way it once did. The mental component that accompanies the ageing process is just as important to address as the physical. There is a common strategy advocated by people who are proponents of positive attitude to simply accept that “ageing is a natural process of life.” While this attitude is probably the correct approach to take, the reality is that the issue is far too complicated for this to be a useful strategy across the board. If someone’s set of life experiences has left them less predisposed to positive thinking even earlier in life, the high likelihood is that this predisposition will carry on into their later years. It is for these people that mental health supports later in life are most necessary. The combination of mental health issues that have gone unaddressed earlier in life and the emergence of new issues that accompany the ageing process can be a particularly difficult cocktail to deal with, often sending people into a prolonged state of depression.
Praise must be given to the WHO and WFMH for recognizing that this is an important issue that requires more awareness. The hope is that we can leverage this awareness moving into the future and ensure the creation of an adequate mental health infrastructure to ensure that all people, and older people in particular, have access to the mental health supports they need.
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Hershal Pandya, Project Officer, International Federation on Ageing (IFA)
For almost a year now, Hershal has worked with the IFA as their website administrator, social media head, lead blogger, and as a promoter for the IFA’s 12th Global Conference on Ageing, taking place June 10-13, 2014 in Hyderabad, India. A graduate with honours from the University of Waterloo, Hershal is passionate about advocating for the rights and dignities of older people and hopes to contribute to this worthy cause through his work with the IFA.