What is mental health?

Your mental health describes your emotional wellbeing – how you think and feel, and how you deal with everyday stresses. It’s just as important as your physical health. Like your physical health, it can get better or worse and change as your situation changes.

How common are mental health problems?

Mental health problems in older adults are very common, although different types affect different numbers of people. Depression affects around one in four older people, and as many as two in five people living in care homes.

What can affect my mental health?

As you get older, painful events or changes in your situation may make you more vulnerable to low mood, depression and anxiety. For example:

  • ill health
  • relationship breakdown
  • bereavement
  • loneliness
  • becoming a carer
  • loss of independence
  • loss of daily routine and social contact following retirement
  • loss of income or money worries
  • moving house, including moving to a new area or moving into a care home.

Sometimes, there might not be an obvious cause at all.

Where should I go for help?

If your negative feelings don’t go away or you’re having trouble coping with them, you could benefit from some help and support. You could:

  • Talk to your GP
  • Tell someone you trust
  • Call an emotional support helpline like Samaritans (116 123) or the Silver Line (0800 4 70 80 90)
  • Call a specialist mental health helpline like Rethink (0300 5000 927) or Mind (0300 123 3393)


Try the NHS mood self-assessment tool

content provided by NHS Choices

You may also want to try the NHS depression self-assessment tool.

When to talk to your GP

Often, periods of low mood won't last long. However, there are times when it's worth considering seeing your GP. They could help you if:

  • you've had negative feelings for more than two weeks
  • your symptoms are interfering with your daily life
  • your family and friends are worried
  • you've had thoughts of self-harm
  • you've thought that life isn't worth living
  • a practical problem that might have caused your depression has been solved, but you still feel down.

They'll be able to assess your situation and discuss treatment options with you. They might suggest:

  • talking therapies, such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy
  • medication, including antidepressants
  • self-help resources and activities, such as support groups and books
  • a combination of these things.

Write down everything you want to say to the GP before you go, and check it off during the appointment to make sure you've covered everything. You could bring a friend or relative with to the appointment for support.

If you feel you can’t go on

If you start to think that you’d be better off dead or that you want to harm yourself, seek help immediately. Contact your GP or ring NHS 111, or call Samaritans on 116 123 for 24-hour confidential support.

How can I look after my mental health generally?

There are things you can do to improve your mental health and help you stay well. For example:

Stay connected

Loneliness and isolation can contribute to anxiety and depression, so try to stay in touch with people. If you’re looking for more social contact, you could consider signing up for regular calls and visits from an Independent Age befriender. Look at our Get Support section or call the Independent Age advice line on 0800 319 6789.

Keep active

Regular activity can really benefit your mental health. It can give you more energy, boost your mood by releasing feel-good chemicals in the brain, help you to eat and sleep properly and generally improve your physical health. Find the activity that works for you, for example:

  • Gardening or housework
  • Walking or cycling
  • Tai chi
  • Dancing

Talk to your GP before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you’re not used to regular exercise.

Watch your diet

Eating sensibly can have a positive effect on how you feel. Avoid high-sugar food and drink and too much alcohol, and try to eat a balanced diet and get your recommended five portions of fruit or veg a day.

Increase your sense of purpose

Volunteering is a great way to meet new people while helping a cause you care about. Independent Age looks for volunteers to make regular friendship calls or visits to older people (go to our Get Involved section for more information) or you could search for volunteering opportunities in your area at Do-it.org.


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