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This week we are thinking a lot about mental health because it is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK.

For everyone – people with dementia included – maintaining good mental health is as important as maintaining good physical health.  

But what is meant by ‘mental health’? What would be classified as a ‘mental health problem’? 

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as ‘a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’. 

Mental health problems may be small or more serious; they may be short-lived or more long-term. Many mental health conditions can be treated with medications, and some can be alleviated with psychological therapies.

Mental health issues are widespread – affecting 1 in 4 people at some point in their life – and yet people affected by mental illness face stigma and discrimination.

In later life, people can face a range of issues that create risks for their mental health, including age discrimination, multiple bereavements, losses of many kinds, long term health conditions and loneliness. Dementia itself is considered to be a mental health condition. Depression and anxiety are also mental health conditions; both are frequently experienced by people living with dementia. 

  • Almost half of all adults will experience at least one episode of depression during their lifetime.

Some common symptoms of depression include sadness, feeling bleak, irritable mood, loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed, feelings of low self-esteem, worthlessness or unjustified guilt, sleep disturbance, problems with remembering, concentrating or making simple decisions, increased agitation and restlessness, tiredness or loss, eating too little or too much, aches and pains that appear to have no physical cause. 

It may be difficult to ascertain whether someone with dementia also has depression. Many of the symptoms are similar. 

  • One in 10 people will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives and many people will have more than one form.

There are different types of anxiety disorder, for example, generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder. Symptoms can be psychological and physical. 

People with dementia who also have an anxiety disorder may experience behavioural changes that cause agitation, restlessness and distress. 

Depression and anxiety disorders can easily be overlooked when they affect people with dementia. Once a diagnosis of dementia has been made, all symptoms that a person experiences might be attributed to their dementia condition, rather than being identified for what they are and treated in an effective way. This is called ‘diagnostic over-shadowing’. 

If you are a person living with dementia and are concerned about your own symptoms, or you a carer supporting a relative with dementia who is experiencing low mood, agitation and restlessness, it would be advisable to ask for a review, initially with your GP and maybe, also with a geriatrician, psychiatrist or specialist mental health practitioner. 

For advice and information call the Admiral Nurses helpline on 0800 888 6678.

If you would like to share experiences of mental health issues with the Live Better With community, please sign up to our Facebook Support Group

Email: barbara@livebetterwith.com