Awareness days may have gotten a silly reputation now that there are ridiculous themes such as World Sock Day and so forth, but when it comes to more serious issues such as mental health, they are critical for shining a spotlight.

As part of our World Mental Health Day series, we've spoken to experts to find out more about this year's focus: mental health among older adults.

Toby Williamson, head of development and later life at the Mental Health Foundation, says: "First of all, in general there is a reluctance to about mental health regardless of age. People are either anxious about it or don’t understand what it means.

older man sad

"Awareness day reminds people that mental health is something we all have. For older people, it also helps to know how they can promote good mental health which involves maintaining good physical health and social relationships, having meaningful activity after retirement, not being victim of ageism and having material means to survive well."

We wanted to know the types of mental illness that can affect you in years to come, and the interesting thing is that certain types don't differ all that much from what affects you in your 30s and 40s - depression and anxiety.

Depression: How To Spot The Symptoms

In the opinion of Sandi Mann, HuffPost UK blogger and director of The MindTraining Clinic in Manchester, depression is most common. She also believes that there is a lack of resources when it comes to dealing with the illness among older adults.

"I think this is an under-acknowledged area and few resources are put into depression amongst older adults. For example, waiting times for a client with mental health issues on the NHS can be 6-12 months, which is a long time if you are 85 and severely depressed. The most common treatment is medication, but this often takes three months at least to start having an effect - and really requires psychological intervention too.

"I feel that older adults are often fobbed off with inadequate intervention so that resources can be targeted to younger, active
people with 'lives to live'."


World Mental Health Day 2013: Mental Health and Older Adults - It Concerns Us All

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It's crucial not to give up. "Coping responses are vital and anyone can learn to cope better," says Dr Raj Persaud, consultant psychiatrist and HuffPost UK blogger. "Indeed it is how effective a coping response that you mount which predicts whether you are going to develop problems rather than how terrible a stressful event you face. There are lots of good books on better coping and a good place to start is a book by The Royal College of Psychiatrists called 'The Mind: A Users Guide' Published by Bantam Press."

However, it's hard to ignore stark facts such as suicide rates among older men increasing, says Toby. "Depression affect 1 in 5 people over the age of 60, and that increases over 70."

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  • Walnuts

    Walnuts are chock-full of heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory nutrients, and are the only good nut source of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), <a href="">HuffPost Healthy Living earlier reported</a>. That means they help promote blood flow, which in turn allows for efficient delivery of oxygen to the brain. And <a href="Disease">research presented at the 2010 International Conference on Alzheimer's</a> found that mice with the disease who were regularly fed walnuts had improved memory, learning and motor skill coordination, <a href="">according to MyHealthNewsDaily</a>.

  • Olive Oil

    Olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to <a href="">actually <em>slow</em> brain aging</a>.

  • Berries

    Animal studies have long indicated a link between berry consumption and brain health. But a recent study published in the <em>Annals of Neurology</em> found that a diet high in blueberries, strawberries and others were linked to a <a href="">slower mental decline in areas like memory and focus</a> in a large sample of middle-aged women, reported <em>TIME</em>'s Alice Park.

  • Sardines

    Fatty fish like sardines (<a href="">and salmon!</a>) are a well-known brain booster, thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which <a href="">have been linked to lower risk of dementia, improved focus and memory</a>.

  • Coffee

    Caffeine, the mild stimulant found in coffee, improves mental acuity, though the drink's enthusiasts -- <a href="">who guzzle 120,000 tons of the stuff each year</a> -- likely already know that. Aside from caffeine's brain boosting effects, coffee's antioxidant richness helps maintain brain health. And some research suggests that drinking coffee can actually <a href="">stave off depression in women</a>.

  • Spinach

    Spinach is rich in the antioxidant lutein, which is thought to help protect against cognitive decline, <a href="">according to researchers from Tufts University</a>. And <a href="">a longitudinal study at Harvard Medical School</a> found that women who reported eating the most leafy green and cruciferous vegetables had a markedly lower rate of cognitive decline, compared to those who ate the least.

  • Dark Chocolate

    Antioxidant-rich dark chocolate is healthy for your whole body, but its <a href="">caffeine content is thought to play a role</a> in maintaining mental acuity. What's more, chocolate is rich in flavonoids, a class of antioxidant that helps to improve blood flow (and thus brain health) by regulating cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.

  • Avocados

    Avocados are full of monounsaturated fats that <a href="">improve vascular health and blood flow</a>, making them another brain food.

  • Water

    When a person becomes dehydrated, their brain tissue actually shrinks. And several studies have shown that <a href="">dehydration can affect cognitive function</a>. Dehydration can impair short-term memory, focus and decision making, <a href="">according to <em>Psychology Today</em></a>.

  • Wheat Germ

    Wheat germ is a rich vegetarian source of choline -- a nutrient that is involved in the body's production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that boosts memory, <a href="" target="_hplink">according to <em>Shape</em></a>. Eggs are another good choline source.

  • Beets

    Beets are a good source of naturally-occurring nitrates, which help improve blood flow to the brain, <a href="">according to <em>Shape</em></a>.

  • Garlic

    Garlic may help stave off some forms of brain cancer, according to research published in <em>Cancer</em>, the medical journal of the American Cancer Society. Investigators found that <a href="organo-sulfur compounds found in garlic have been identified as effective against glioblastoma">the organo-sulfur compounds in garlic actually worked to kill glioblastoma cells</a> -- a type of malignant tumor cell.

How do you spot the signs that a loved one might be depressed?

"There are a range of symptoms around depression – feeling sad, withdrawn, feeling tearful for no reason," says Toby. "A bereavement might go on longer than normal. They might feel hopelessness, worthless or may be feeling suicidal."

Sandi adds: "Look for the following signs: a refusal to do things that they are capable of (eg walking, shopping, social activities), no longer doing things they used to enjoy (even though they are still capable), change in eating habits (usually eating less), talk of there being 'no point' in anything."

older woman active

It's important to keep active

A further complication in dealing with another person's mental illness is if you're having to physically care for them. Although the situation might be frustrating, do everything you can to not take it out on them.

What support is there for older adults who are depressed or anxious? "If person is isolated," advises Toby, "it may help if you take them out of the house. There are plenty of good examples that show it helps if they are being social. If it is severe, they should see their GP and bear in mind that medication doesn’t always work well for everyone – some benefit from talking treatment and on the NHS, they have the right to it.

"Your GP might also give you a prescription to join a walking group or art appreciation group – it brings people in contact with other people."

Dementia is another mental condition that can affect older adults. The good news, says Toby, is that healthy eating, not smoking, reducing drinking and being active in the community can help reduce the effects of it.

"People can still live a good quality of life," he says, "and often, although problems arise because some people get depressed when they have dementia, if you can treat the depression some people can live moderately well."

In addition, growing older doesn't have to be viewed negatively because dementia is more likely. "Old age is seen to be a problem in its own right and just because you’re getting old doesn’t mean you’ll definitely have dementia. The majority of people will get through old age without developing symptoms of severe mental health"

Offering a final piece of advice, Dr Raj Persaud says: "Esther Rantzen has recently helped found The Silver Line which is an agency and help line for older people which is very helpful when it comes to depression and anxiety."

For advice, call MIND on 0300 123 3393. The Silver Line helpline number is 0800 328 8888.