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3 steps to helping someone open up – Time to Talk Day 2020

Opening up can be challenging – especially in later life. 

Research from NHS England and Age UK revealed that six in 10 people in the UK aged 65 or over have experienced depression and anxiety.

And although society is doing more and more to put these issues into focus, MentalHealth.org estimates that 85% of older people with depression still receive no help from the NHS.

But, why? Well, Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director for Age UK believes that this cultural shift has left many older people behind. 

“They grew up in an era when there was a real stigma associated with mental illness, so for many, these attitudes are deeply engrained and still driving their behaviour today,” she said. 

So, how can you help?

With Time to Talk Day, Time to Change is encouraging us to chat about our mental health. With that in mind, here’s our three-step plan to giving someone that vital support in opening up:

1. Make sure the conversation feels natural

Ordinarily, you’d start this type of conversation in a neutral setting, e.g. a cafe, park or car. But this isn’t always possible for older people with limited mobility. So if a house is the only option for a chat, think about the right space to do it in. Instead of starting that conversation sat in the lounge, why not mention it whilst putting the kettle on? You don’t want this experience to be any more intense than it needs to be. It can feel a lot more casual and relaxed when ‘the chat’ isn’t the centre of attention.

2. Put yourself in their shoes

Once someone has opened up, it’s important to focus on them and listen. But to get things started it’s a good idea to share your own feelings and experiences. This doesn’t necessarily mean disclosing a mental health problem you may have. It can be as simple as sharing something that you’re worried about. This is a clear way of showing that you’re open to talking about feelings – without any judgement.

3. Ask – and ask again

Now, it’s important not to push the issue. You should never pressure someone into talking if they don’t feel comfortable. However, it’s often a default answer to say that you’re OK when you’re not. Gently asking twice, e.g. “are you sure everything’s OK?”, shows that you’re serious and not just being polite. And if they don’t open up this time, they’ll know that you’re the person to turn to in future. 

But if someone isn’t ready to open up, there are other ways you can help:

  • Do something together, e.g. watch a film and chat about it afterwards
  • Send a text after your visit to let them know you’re thinking of them
  • Offer to help with day-to-day tasks, e.g. tidying the house

You could also point them towards other areas of support. 

Further advice and support

If they are able to get out, Time to Change has lots of local events happening across the UK. You can see what’s happening in your area here

Alternatively, visit the NHS UK website for information on talking therapies.

For a free guide called Your Mind Matters which focuses on improving mental wellbeing or information on depression and anxiety in later life visit the Age UK website.

Finally, Age UK partner’s run a range of services to help support older people with mental health problems. This ranges from Men in Sheds clubs to dedicated counselling services. There is also a free Advice Line on 0800 169 6565.

Welbeing can give you and your loved ones valuable peace of mind at home. For more information about how a personal alarm could help, call 01323 644422. Alternatively, send us an email: info@welbeing.org.uk.

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