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Mental health crisis of ageing in India: feeling neglected, loss of importance in family

By Harasankar Adhikari  

The crisis of mental health as a result of ageing is the prime burden of successful ageing today. In order to discuss this ageing issue, we have to understand the phases of human life. There are two phases in a human life – (i) the forenoon phase and (ii) the afternoon phase. The forenoon phase is the initial phase of life for preparing oneself (i.e., education, occupation, marriage, rearing of family, social citizenship responsibility, and so forth). On the other hand, afternoon phase (i.e., middle age to end of life ) directs to follow the principle of detachment (i.e., limitation of activities outside for earning and spiritual development, etc.). It guides us to adopt an inner culture of life beyond the routine work of money-making, social existence, family, and other duties. There are many types of institutions at this stage. But in the afternoon stage, there are limited institutions (only religious institutions) to deal with this phase. Therefore, the psychic hygiene of the elderly becomes a burden, and it leads to an unhappy death.
The critical living of the elderly is due to the bad impact of the global cultural bound syndrome. The elderly change their lifestyle and life choices. Their consumerized lifestyle causes physical suffering and a lower quality of day to day life. In ageing life, detachment and renunciation are rare, and there is an absence of voluntary simplicity and spirituality in daily life, particularly in the better-off section. This is the prime cause of mental illness.
Secondly, due to several socioeconomic, cultural, and political factors varying with the changing times, the family has been broken from an extended/joint family (grandparents + parents + children) to a nuclear family (parents + child(ren)) The elderly hardly have space in this nuclear family. But several studies opine or argue that the family is the best space for the elderly in their last days in all respects. There is no alternative to it.
The mental health of the elderly is in poor and adverse condition because of their detachment from family and immediate members. They always want to spend their last days with all of their family members. But the members of their families do not realise their needs. They consider the elderly a burden because they would hamper their happiness. The elderly have no importance compared to their lifestyle. In some cases, they prefer to deputise paid carers instead of voluntary care-givers. As a consequence of this, they feel neglected, have a loss of importance in the family, loneliness and have a feeling of un-wantedness in the family as well as in society, and have a feeling of inadequacy and obsolescence of skills, education, and expertise.
We have to understand the multilayered importance of every phase of civilization. It protects the interests of members, ensures safety and security, integrates values, respect, and disciplines, and renews the race with a unique system of duties and responsibilities according to the age and gender of the members in a family. It is a place for nurturing the new born, and on the other hand, it cares for the elderly until their last day. Even after death, they are respected by performing particular rituals.
Living with the family member with care would surely improve the mental health of the elderly. The elderly may also follow the rules of the "Vanaprastha," the third stage (according to the Manusmirti and the other Hindu’s scriptures) for successful ageing.
Last of all, protection of the elderly might save a family from its day-to-day broken and truncated structure.

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