Following reports that the mentally ill are being abandoned, Robert Allen interviewed Jim, a worker in the mental health system.
RA: The Healthcare commission are saying that mental health for over 65s virtually does not exist. Are you aware of this concern?
Jim: I used to work in a unit that worked exclusively with people over retirement age with mental health problems. I'm certainly not going to say it was a gold star service but "virtually does not exist" seems a little strong.
I suspect that many older people with mental health problems are simply farmed into mainstream old people's homes where there is no specialist knowledge.
It's certainly true that these homes see a lot of mental health issues but this is often seen as dottyness or people 'playing up' without properly trained staff. I'd say the services are failing older people.
RA: Is the report accurate in your experience, that psychiatric services to the over 65s is poor?
Jim: These services are poor for everyone certainly. They tend towards the extremes either they give little to no support or they lock you up - which I think is due to cost - and in particular with the current NHS crisis the mental health services such as they are will be particularly badly hit.
RA: Are the mentally ill being left to fend for themselves and how bad is it for the over 65s?
Jim: I'd say the over 65s at the moment have a choice - be taken into specialist care or cope on your own. This is clearly a very unfortunately position to be in.
But addressing some of the problems that lead to mental health deterioration are as important as dealing with these problems when they arise - housing and poverty are real problems - it's great that more and more older people are becoming more active than they were, say, twenty years ago, because when people feel they have been thrown on the scrap heap and are simply waiting to die it leads to depression and physical deterioration.
RA: If the health authorities are cutting back on their psychiatric services, what does this mean for older people?
Jim: My impression is that day services are going to be hit particularly hard because the extent of the cuts means that things have to close and units where people are resident are more difficult and problematic to close than an 'extra' service.
These services are, in my view, a very important in ensuring that older people have the kind of human contact that can help combat the isolation and loneliness that will often entrench mental health problems.