A quarter of Scots over 65 have experienced mental health issues as a result of loneliness, according to new research by two leading charities.
The survey, carried out by Age Scotland and The Mental Health Foundation Scotland, has revealed that up to 120,000 elderly people could be suffering from undiagnosed depression during periods when they feel lonely.
This news follows another revelation earlier this month which showed that 80,000 older people feel more isolated at Christmas that at any other time of year.
It is believed that a reluctance to seek help among older generations could be one of the main issues, with almost a third saying they feel that they should be able to cope by themselves and 22 per cent not wanting to bother family and friends. Head of Mental Health Foundation Scotland, Lee Knifton, said: “It’s heart-breaking that so many older people feel they ought to cope with their loneliness themselves and it shows that many are not reaching out for help.
But feeling lonely is nothing to be ashamed of – it’s a consequence of our fragmented society. Older people need to be supported to seek help and expect that there will be appropriate resources available.”
Social media may also be exasperating the problem, with a fifth of respondents saying that technology is causing them to feel lonely by replacing face-to-face contact which they would otherwise have had.
The two charities have reached out to The Scottish Government as well as local authorities and the public for their help to improve the situation and have used the research to create a twelve-point plan to tackle it. The list includes proposals to introduce a ‘Welcome Home Box’ which would be given to older people who are returning to their homes after a stay in hospital and would provide them with contact details for support groups and activities in their local area.
The Government has recently committed to act against social isolation in its Mental Health Strategy, but none of the 40 proposed actions are specific to older people.
In a statement, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We recognise that while many groups are affected by isolation and loneliness, older people are at particular risk. Addressing loneliness is a priority for this government and early next year we will consult on our social isolation and loneliness strategy.
“Our Mental Health Strategy, launched earlier this year, lays out our ambition that there should be equal access to psychological therapies and support for those who need them, irrespective of age or where people live.”
If you or someone you know might be experiencing any of the issues discussed in this article contact Age Scotland for advice on 0800 12 44 222.