Factsheet: Older People and Mental Health

This factsheet is available in a downloadable PDF here.

Table of Contents


How Fine are You?
Are You or a Member of Your Family over 60?
What might Cause Mental Health Problems in Older Age?
What are Some Common Signs of Mental Ill Health?
What can Help?

How Fine are You?

Mental Health and Well-being of Older People is not a subject which receives a lot of attention and can very often be a neglected topic.

Older age is a period of time when many life changes may occur,  loss of a spouse or other family members or friends, or loss of some mobility which may lead to increased isolation. These changes could have a serious impact on anyone – at whatever age.  However there may be an attitude that these are ‘normal life experiences which are to be expected and coped with as we get older’.  This perhaps leads to older people and their families:-

  • Not coming forward for help and support
  • Not realising that, as with physical health problems, treatment is available and may be helpful
  • Feeling that nothing can be done
  • Not receiving an early diagnosis of depression, for example
  • Not receiving the opportunity to opt for treatment other than anti-depressants – cognitive behavioural therapy for example
  • Not receiving advice on practical ways of maintaining mental health and well-being

Equally, this same attitude, can affect professional staff and volunteers working with older people, so that older people and their families are not encouraged to seek help and support or given practical advice.

Are You or a Member of Your Family over 60?

Mental health problems often go unregonised in older people and this is more common than most people think.  Sometimes it’s easier to talk about aches and pains rather than personal feelings and emotions.  mental ill health can also be mistaken for other unrelated conditions such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

People with mental health problems may feel unusually low, unusually elated, paranoid, anxious, or depressed.  If this sounds familiar, be reassured that mental ill health is treatable – with help.

What might Cause Mental Health Problems in Older Age?

Growing old brings life changes.  For many it is an enjoyable time, however everyone deals with change differently.  Events such as the loss of physical health, bereavement, isolation and adjusting to retirement can be very difficult to cope with.

Older people from minority ethnic backgrounds can feel particularly isolated due to cultural differences and feelings of displacement. For some older people adjusting to these changes may contribute to mental ill-health, as can an increase in caring responsibilities.  It is important that you are able to recognise all of these problems and know that you can get help.

What are Some Common Signs of Mental Ill Health?

People often say that they are feeling ‘fine’ when asked how they are.  However, a person’s behaviour might suggest otherwise.  If you have noticed recent changes in your feelings and behaviour, this may be a sign that you are not well.

Some things to look out  for:

  • Changes in your mood
  • Hearing voices that are not heard by others, or seeing things that are not visible to others
  • Feelings of guilt, shame and worthlessness
  • Unusual irritability, tearfulness, agitation or anxiety
  • Loss of appetite, or eating more than usual
  • Wakening early or altered sleeping
  • Poor concetration
  • Withdrawal and loss of interest in life, including sex
  • Feelings of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts

If you or someone you know or care for has any or some of these symptoms, then it may be due to a mental health problem.  Not all of these symptoms are just about becoming older, remember mental health problems are a real illness but people can get better.

What can Help?

There are many things you can do which will help you to feel better

Talk to Someone

Speak to a friend or someone you tust and try to tell them how you are feeling.  Talking does help.  It is especially important to tell someone if you are feeling so low you feel like ending it all.

Go Out and be Active

Staying at home can make you brood on things and become isolated.  Taking a little exercise is known to improve mood.

Eat Properly

People who are unwell often lose their appetite and eat very little.  If so, you can lose weight and run short of important vitamins and minerals.  As ever a balanced diet is the key to staying healthy.

If You are not Sleeping Well Try not to Panic

It will get better when you get better.

Avoid Drinking too much Alcohol

Alcohol can make you feel worse and may react with any tablets you are taking.

Don’t Alter the Number of Tablets You are on

Or stop taking them, or try other remedies, without discussing this with your doctor. If you are taking medication that has unpleasant side-effects, tell your doctor or nurse.

If none of the above help you to feel better it is important that you make an appointment to see your GP.

Related Services

Below are links to Services in the Edspace database that may be of interest:

External websites related to Older People and Mental Health

These web sites may be useful. Please note that we are not responsible for external sites; if you find any broken links or inappropriate content please report it to the site administrators using the feedback page.

  • Action on Depression

    Action on Depression (formerly Depression Alliance Scotland) is the only national mental health charity in Scotland working for people affected by depression.


    We provide information and support for anyone with depression and their friends and family and campaign to raise awareness and understanding of depression in Scotland and to improve services for people with depression.

  • Edinburgh Carers Council

    Edinburgh Carers Council aims to make sure the views of carers are included at all stages in the development of mental health services.  They offer collective advocacy to make sure this is done. 

    We also provide information to carers through having courses on a variety of topics.  These range from one day to six week courses.

  • VOCAL – The voice of carers across Lothian
    VOCAL provides advocacy, support and information to carers. They also have a free and confidential counselling services for carers. The project is for all carers, including mental health carers.
  • Edinburgh Crisis Centre
    Edinburgh Crisis Centre supports people in crisis and their carers. Their free phone number is 08088010414
    Open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
  • Cruse Scotland
    Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland is a registered charity which offers free bereavement care and support to people who have experienced the loss of someone close.
  • Health in Mind
    Health in Mind is a Scottish Charity whose mission is to promote tolerance and greater understanding of mental health issues through:
    • Offering a range of mental health and wellbeing services
    • Raising awareness of mental health and wellbeing issues
    • Innovating, developing and promoting new approaches to mental health improvement.
    Previously known as Edinburgh Association for Mental Health (EAMH), Health in Mind was developed in 1982 and continues to deliver a wide range of services across the Lothians and Borders, including one national service.
  • Age Scotland
    Age Scotland, strives to represent all of Scotland's older people and provide a united voice.

Phonelines Related to Older People and Mental Health

  • The Samaritans

    08457 90 90 90

    The Samaritans will not try to give you advice, judge you or tell you what to do, they will just listen and support you. They are there for anyone, especially those who are suicidal or in crisis.

  • Edinburgh Crisis Centre

    0808 801 0414

    Edinburgh Crisis Centre supports people in crisis and their carers. Their free phone number is 08088010414
    Open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

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