Elders and Mental Health
In a world characterized by constant change, the value of wisdom and experience, often embodied by our elders, becomes increasingly significant. Beyond the surface of age lies a wealth of stories, lessons, and resilience that can enrich the very fabric of our societies. In this exploration, we delve into the profound connection between the respect accorded to elders and the mental well-being of individuals and communities.
From the familial bonds in Latin America to the Confucian principles of East Asia, and the mosaic of traditions in Europe and North America, each culture contributes to a global tapestry that influences the mental well-being of our elders. Join us in exploring our elders and the resilience of mental health of our elders
In East Asian cultures, particularly in China, Japan, and Korea, elders are respected for their wisdom and knowledge more than what we might see in Western countries. This can be linked to religion and cultural aspects. Confucian, (ancient Chinese belief system), values emphasize filial piety, encouraging the younger generation to respect and care for their elders. This deep-rooted cultural respect not only fosters strong family bonds but also provides a sense of purpose and belonging for the elderly. Moreover, many East Asians were based on the virtues of Buddhism which often engrain the idea that elders should be respected and valued for the experience and knowledge they hold.
In many Latin American societies, elders are often seen as the foundation of the family unit. Their guidance and experiences are cherished, and multi-generational households are common. This close-knit family structure provides emotional support for the elderly, promoting mental well-being as they age. However, we are starting to see a change in mental health trends amongst elders due to longer life expectancy and financial instability of the whole family unit.
In recent decades, countries like Guatemala are facing lots of senior abandonment due to their families facing financial instability. This impacts the family unit and the overall mental health senior citizens may be feeling.
Moreover, in Mexico it has become a trend that the elders are reporting a high level of mental health issues due to poverty and the feeling of loneliness. “Demographic trends of the last decades show that, due to increasing life expectancies, for the first time in Mexican history, family members of four different generations are interacting with each other for a considerable length of time before the oldest family members pass away”. At the end of 2017, it was reported that approximately 43% of older adults in Mexico City were living in conditions of isolation. With the lack of interaction with their family and friends, their mental health becomes impacted. Many seniors are reporting that they are missing that social support from their families and feel that their mental health is taking a toll.
In Europe, the respect for elders varies across countries, each influenced by unique cultural, historical, and social factors. In many Northern European countries, such as Sweden and Denmark, there is a strong emphasis on egalitarian values, where elders are treated with dignity and often included in decision-making processes within families. In Southern European countries like Italy and Greece, there’s a tradition of close-knit family structures, where elders are highly regarded as sources of guidance and wisdom.
However, elders across Europe are also reporting increased mental health issues related to loneliness. “Data from European countries participating in the Generations and Gender Surveys showed that mean loneliness scores of older adults are higher in Eastern than in Western European countries”. Loneliness can be attributed to various factors. The main one being is unmet social needs. Many elders are reporting that their social needs are going unmet. In today’s busy world, it is hard for families to take time away from their busy lives to meet with their grandparents or aging parents.
Moreover, many elders also report feelings of loneliness due to poor living conditions. In the past, aging parents would move in with their children and families, however, with the cost of living on the rise this is being seen less and less and seniors are often left to live in inadequate housing.
In North America, the respect for elders is influenced by a blend of cultural backgrounds due to the diverse population. Indigenous communities, as well as those with European, African, Asian, and Latin American roots, contribute to a rich mosaic of perspectives on how elders are regarded. While there isn’t a singular approach, certain commonalities exist across the continent, emphasizing the importance of family, community, and intergenerational relationships.
However, we are also seeing a rise in mental health amongst elders in North America. An estimated 20% of people aged 55 and older have some sort of mental concern. This is linked to a lack of social and emotional support, loneliness, and lack of familial interaction.
We looked at different mental health trends that have been impacting elders around the world and found there are common issues seen in every part of the world. No matter the country or continent, our elders are experiencing loneliness more than ever before. The elders of the world are reporting that they are lacking social interaction either from their family or friends. But what can we do to help our elders feel less lonely?
Regular Social Interaction:
- Encourage regular visits from family, friends, or neighbors.
- Schedule phone calls or video chats to maintain connections, especially if physical visits are challenging.
- Explore local community centers, senior clubs, or organizations that offer social activities and events.
- Encourage participation in group activities, classes, or hobby groups to foster new connections.
Senior Support Services:
- Connect them with local senior support services that offer companionship, counseling, or home visits.
- Consider hiring a caregiver or companion if needed.
If we work together to provide adequate support and services to our elders, we can strive for a future in which elders feel less impacted by mental health.
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More resources: Embracing Holistic Wellness: A Path to Mental Health, Cultivating Mental Clarity: Meditation Techniques for Improved Focus and Memory at Work, Balanced Living: Measuring All Aspects of Health