Over the few days, three pensioners have been killed in the most brutal and unconscionable manner. This has caused much discussion in society about the care and welfare of our senior citizens. In two of the instances, there appears to be some mental health factors involved with the suspects, but the other incident is allegedly driven by greed.
Like many others, Police Commissioner Clifton Hicken has expressed concern, with recent murders articulating his deep worry about these recent murders. In calling for families to look out for those who may be showing signs of depression, and seeking the necessary intervention to mitigate such crimes, the commissioner has commendably committed the GPF to working with the Human Services Ministry, among others, to pursue initiatives aimed at mitigating such occurrences.
This newspaper has had several editorials wherein it was pointed out that much discussion has been had locally about the mental health of citizens. While in many instances the topic was categorised as ‘taboo’ in many cultures, it came to fore as the COVID-19 pandemic took centre stage all around the world. It is well known that the pandemic has taken a severe toll on the mental wellbeing of persons all over the world.
Due to the lack of resources, many countries are unable to mount the kind of response that is needed to address the mental health challenges of their populations, or are forced to scale back the level of response needed due to other areas competing for scarce resources.
As Hamlet had stated in his writings, “I have of late – but wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercise; and, indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory…”
Depression is part of the human condition, and Hamlet’s description of its symptoms matches those in a modern medical textbook. The categorisation has become more precise, the treatments more advanced, but the illness is still badly understood, and its consequences are often hidden. Depression remains, if not a source of shame, then at least bewilderment to those who suffer from it and those around them. Yet it is on the increase, neurotic disorders affecting one in six adults at some point in their lives. Society and medical science need a better response.
Back in 2010, UK Journalist and the Guardian’s head of special projects, who led a team of Journalists investigating international trends and issues, Mark Rice-Oxley, wrote powerfully of his “decline from unremarkable working dad of three to stranded depressive, sitting on the floor doing simple jigsaws”.
His shock was not just at the crushing effect of a condition that seemed to come from nowhere, but the confusion about how to overcome it.
The truth is that medical advances have controlled many diseases, but depression in its different forms is either becoming more common or being detected more often – and perhaps both. Pharmaceutical treatments, while restricted in their effectiveness, are being used much more widely.
However, part of the challenge is defining what it is to be depressed. The term has such a wide common meaning that it can be used to cover anything, from passing grief to long-term illness. The Royal College of Psychiatrists lists typical symptoms: feeling utterly tired; feeling useless, inadequate and hopeless; and feeling unhappy most of the time among them. But there can be no medical exactitude to an illness experienced in different degrees and different ways by different people; only that you know it when it comes.
The human mind is the most extraordinary and least understood part of the body, the source of joy and creativity. It can also, as Hamlet knew, create the horror of depression: “This brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.”
Coming back to the issue of our elderly, the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and the Political Declaration, adopted at the Second World Assembly on Ageing in April 2002, offers a bold new agenda for handling the issue of ageing in the 21st-century. It focuses on three priority areas: older persons and development; advancing health and well-being into old age; and ensuring enabling and supportive environments. It is a resource for policymaking, suggesting ways for governments, non-governmental organisations, and other actors to reorient the ways in which their societies perceive, interact with, and care for their older citizens.