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11 May 2017
There are many different taboos in life that each one of us has to cope with – and the silence around mental health issues is one of them. At least one in four people suffers from mental health problems, writes Charles Daniel from the Senior Citizens’ Media Group
In this article I am concentrating on older patients. I am a 67 year old man who falls into this category. Sometimes you feel desperate to talk to someone – anyone – but I would be gripped with fear and sometimes it would be months before I saw a doctor or specialist.
My saving graces were poetry, listening to music or watching TV. But socialising in groups or at parties was very difficult and nerve wracking. My own ability to communicate in conversation was very limited for many years.
As regards to personal relationships, like girlfriends, I was too shy to follow through any chance I may have had because of my illness. I felt isolated and alone and felt I did not belong in society and had no right to a normal life.
The main way I expressed myself was through writing poetry, but even that had its problems. I would write a poem after a few attempts and rewrites, normally at midnight. This would give me a temporary lift but then in the morning I would read it again and it did not seem so good.
It was during my early poetry days that I did make some long-time friends – those precious few were a godsend to me.
Despite my illness, my mother and older brother relied on me for help and caring, for most of my adult life. I was also the one who made the main decisions and this responsibility kept me from having therapy for my own mental health problems.
When my mother died it was a very big shock for both me and my brother. His health was then coming to a crisis but, despite our previous differences, he began to realise that we had to work together. In his last years we finally became close.
When he passed away I realised I had to seek help to deal with my problem. I spoke to my doctor, opened up and told her I needed help with communication, as my inability to talk effectively was destroying my life.
My doctor referred me to the organisation called Mind in Hackney. I felt a bit ashamed to admit I had a problem talking to people – after all I had done a number of jobs, followed hobbies and even had theatre projects. But what people did not realise was, I never really connected on a one to one basis in a social gathering.
At Mind I finally got a chance to express myself in a calm, quiet, comfortable, safe environment with a warm, caring professional counsellor. Over the next nine months she gave me the chance to tell my story and in doing so my conversation and confidence improved.
My experience at Mind was very productive. The whole team and staff were always encouraging and friendly towards me. As well as counselling, I also did maths and computer courses there.
After my time at Mind I was recommended to do a course in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) at Anita House in Stoke Newington. It was a 16-week course to help overcome negative thoughts and behaviour. This counsellor was also very warm and friendly and very good at her job. I soon started to realise my strengths as well as my weaknesses. I truly recommend the course to anyone who needs a positive way of dealing with their problems.
While I was at Anita House I was referred to the Shoreditch Trust where I learned about Core Arts in Hackney (see box, left). You have to be referred to Core Arts by your doctor. You then get a 12-week arts course of your choice. You can also go along to their evening social events, with music and poetry. I was very impressed and within two weeks I was doing a song-writing course.
Once I had finished, I became a member of Core Arts and started to do voluntary work on the reception desk – and received a free class. I am also now singing in the choir.
Since I have been at Core Arts, because of the warm friendly atmosphere there, I have noticed my social skills improve enormously. I am so grateful to the staff and members there, who I now regard as really my very good friends.
I compare myself now to a hardy flower that has at last come to bloom.
Useful phone numbers: Mind in Hackney 020 8525 2301, Core Arts 020 8533 3500.