Tony's tips for good mental health
Overcoming challenges There are certain things we can all do to keep mentally resilient as we age, says actor, presenter, author and campaigner, Tony Robinson.
Have you had any experience of mental health issues with older members of your own family?
Both my mum and my dad had some kind of dementia — and I spent so much time surrounded by the failures of the care system, the ignorance of what the disease was, the exhaustion of the carers and lack of funding that I became crosser and crosser. I made a documentary for Channel 4 called Me and My Mum about my experience of caring for my mum at the end of her life. After that I received so many letters from people in similar positions outlining the frustration and fury they felt.
What was the outcome?
I came to the conclusion that there was a kind of madness in our country, where we talked about the very young, those at school, apprenticeships, universities, and buying houses... but we simply weren't interested in people over the age of 65 who we defined as 'elderly'.
Is anxiety and depression also an issue among this age group?
That's certainly true. When you get older, it's more likely that you'll be less mobile, so you won't be able to get out as much or see as much of your relatives as you'd like. You start losing friends. Your sight might not be so good so you can't read as well or watch the telly. There are good reasons why your depression is likely to be aggravated by the situation you find yourself in. I think society needs to be much more aware of those pitfalls.
Is being socially active a good way to keep mentally resilient?
I think that's absolutely right. But, of course, a lot of older people can't be socially active on their own — they require assistance when it comes to finding out where activities are taking place or organising transport. Realistically, we need to take much more responsibility than we often do for the mental health of the older people we love. Now they may well say: 'I don't want to do that.' And that's their human right. That doesn't mean we should stop trying.
Is mental health still a taboo subject?
I wouldn't say it's taboo. But people don't like to talk about it because they see it as a series of intransigent problems which they're not going to be able to deal with. And they're frightened of it. We've all heard the mantra: 'Don't let me get like that'. But we are all going to have to face up to the scourge of death, and it's in our own self-interest to make things better for the generation above ours, so that our generation will have a better older age, too.
Much is made of keeping physically well as we age. Is their less focus on keeping mentally well?
I would say they're not mutually exclusive. The more physically fit you are, the better chance you have of chasing off the blues. The more optimistic you are, the greater the chance there is that you'll go out on walks and take exercise. So I don't think it's either/or.
What do you do to keep mentally sharp?
You're asking Baldrick that question? I'm very lucky. I'm nearly 71 but I'm still working full time. I find that having a challenge to constantly engage me is absolutely brilliant and really helps. There are certain things we can all do to make things less likely to go wrong. Like, quite frankly, not drinking too much, watching your diet, getting some exercise, and remaining engaged with society.