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Age Cymru hold a spotlight on the mental health and wellbeing of older people event

THE CURRENT levels of investment in older people’s mental health and wellbeing in Wales are not meeting needs.  This was the key conclusion from an Age Cymru event called A spotlight on the mental health and well-being of older people held in the Senedd Buildings (Welsh Government) on Thursday 18 April 2024. 

The event called for a clearer focus on older people’s mental health backed by adequate and sustainable funding not only for specific statutory and third sector mental health support but also for services that underpin a good quality of life for older people such as the availability of public transport, access to social care, and support for older carers. 

Speaking at the event, Age Cymru’s head of policy Heather Ferguson said: “We need to understand why older people aren’t accessing the help they need when they need it. 

“We very much welcome the identification of older people as a group requiring specific support to protect their mental health and wellbeing in the forthcoming Welsh Government consultation which will hopefully shine an overdue spotlight on older people’s mental health needs in Wales. 

“Older adult mental health support has been overlooked for many years, and we know that older people can face multiple barriers to gaining the support they might need. 

“We hope that this event will provide the catalyst for an increased focus on older people’s mental health, foster discussion, and share good practice, to help bring about much needed improvements.”  

The scale of poor mental health amongst older people in Wales:

The event heard that as we age factors impacting on poor mental health increase. For example, the longer people live the more likely they are to experience the loss of family and friends, become more socially isolated and lonely, become targeted by abusers and criminal fraudsters, and take on difficult caring responsibilities. 

  • 22% of men and 28% of women over 65 suffer with depression 
  • 30% of older carers experience depression at some point 
  • Older people experiencing bereavement are four times more likely to suffer with depression 
  • Age Cymru’s 2024 national survey found that older people with physical and mobility challenges were 70% more likely to suffer with mental health 
  • 40% of older people living in care homes suffer with depression. 

Speaking at the event, the Welsh Government minister for Mental Health and Early Years, Jayne Bryant MS said that her department is currently undertaking a national consultation to support a forthcoming mental health and wellbeing strategy.  The minister added that the evidence gathered so far in supporting the need for such a strategy is overwhelming, particularly amongst older people. 

The Mamwlad project – The Farm, Your Home, Your Life: 

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Age Cymru Powys’ Gail Colbridge and Care and Repair’s Rachel Owen gave the event a whistle stop tour of their innovative project called Mamwlad that supports older farmers in Powys.  They outlined some of the unique challenges facing the industry including the lack of social support to talk to someone, geographical isolation, and variable income that is often determined by the weather.  

They said that farming accounts for nearly one in four all workplace deaths, despite representing just 1.5% of the workforce. 

The project supports people either working or retired from the industry.  It offers telephone or face to face visits, provides benefits advice, access to local services, financial planning, and support with housing issues including adaptations and repairs. 

Supporting older carers:  

Claire Morgan, director of Carers Wales gave the event a very stark picture of the life of an older care in Wales. The director said four out of five carers feel stressed or anxious, while more than two thirds found it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.  More than half said their physical health suffered and that they’d put off their own health treatment because of their caring role. 

However, the contribution made by Wales’ estimated 400,000 unpaid carers is huge providing an astonishing 96% of the care delivered in Wales.  This saves the Welsh economy an estimated £33 million each year. The director called for better support for carers including mental health and wellbeing support to enable them to continue caring. She also called for more respite care and financial support for carers.