Elderly don't know where to find help for mental health issues video

JOSEPH JOHNSON/Stuff.co.nz

Gwenda Pomeroy shares her journey of recovery from mental health issues.

Gwenda Pomeroy first noticed something was wrong when she could not stop pouring water into a glass for her grandson.

She did not know why she kept pouring, and felt like she did not know who she was anymore.

The now 77-year-old was recovering from a major heart attack, which she believes was partly caused by stress following the February 2011 earthquake, and started "pulling away from everything".

Gwenda Pomeroy, 77, became depressed after a major heart attack following the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Gwenda Pomeroy, 77, became depressed after a major heart attack following the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes.

"I didn't want to go out, didn't want to see people, didn't want to answer the phone, had no interest in computer, TV, radio."

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The thought she was depressed did not cross her mind. 

Gwenda Pomeroy recovered after therapy and medication, but relapsed in 2013.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Gwenda Pomeroy recovered after therapy and medication, but relapsed in 2013.

"I've always been out there, always been positive. Life was good, even if it was difficult. But suddenly there was that horrible loss of who I was."

Experts and advocacy groups warn mental health issues are under-diagnosed for older people, and those suffering anxiety and depression often do not know where to find help.

For Pomeroy, it took an observant ambulance officer for her to realise she had a problem.

Age Concern says older people need mental health support but in a survey 70 per cent said they didn't know where to find ...
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Age Concern says older people need mental health support but in a survey 70 per cent said they didn't know where to find such support.

She felt much better after a few weeks of therapy and a prescription for a mild anti-depressant, but relapsed in late 2013 after seeing her sister-in-law battle the last stages of cancer.

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She told her GP in February 2014 that she was feeling sad, helpless and had lost her balance again.

"I know I needed to talk. I needed help."

A volunteer psychologist from Age Concern helped Gwenda recover her equilibrium after her relapse. She thinks that just ...
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

A volunteer psychologist from Age Concern helped Gwenda recover her equilibrium after her relapse. She thinks that just getting old can make people depressed.

She was referred to the older persons mental health service, but there was no space.

Pomeroy's daughter sought help from Age Concern, which sent a volunteer psychologist once a week.

She now felt mentally healthy again, and had recognised the importance of "being able to talk".

"I think just getting old can make you depressed. I've never ever worried about getting old and suddenly I've got two hearing aids, bad eyesight, a puffer for asthma and your body starts breaking," she said.

"You've worked, you've been in charge of things and suddenly the world is stopping.

"It's most important to talk about mental health. It's not a stigma, it's a condition and it can be treated."

Age Concern chief executive Simon Templeton said older people needed more mental health support.

An informal survey of 50 Age Concern members revealed 90 per cent felt it would be useful to have access to psychological support for issues including anxiety and depression, and 70 per cent said they would not know where to seek help if they needed it.

"Often, it's felt that it's a normal part of aging to feel low in mood or sad. It masks depression that can be treated," he said.

Undiagnosed, mental health issues could have "huge consequences" for physical health and lead to cardiac and brain issues.

In response to the survey, Age Concern hired a psychologist one day a week for six months with "the funding I could scrap together", Templeton said.

University of Otago, Christchurch, senior lecturer in medicine Hamish Jamieson said isolation and loneliness were big risk factors for the elderly, and could lead to depression, anxiety and other health issues.

Older people generally did not want to complain and were often forgotten.

GPs did "a great job in a small amount of time", but could only do so much, he said.

"It's often voluntary organisations picking up mental health issues."

"It's going to be a national challenge to know what to do with an increasingly isolated aging population. We need to look at innovative ways to connect people."

The Canterbury District Health Board did not respond to a request for comment.

 - Stuff

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