Alan, 75 from Swinton, says writing his personal biography has helped him find a new lease of life.
The life of an older person struggling with mental health problems has been transformed over the pandemic, all thanks to writing his life story book.
Alan, 75 from Swinton, completed his life story book with the support of The Salford Older Adult Primary Care Psychological Therapies Service, part of Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMMH).
Many older people have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID pandemic and are reporting much higher than normal levels of mental distress.
According to the Office of National Statistics, the proportion of older people reporting symptoms of depression has doubled across the course of the pandemic; whilst research by Age UK has found that a third of older adults feel more anxious than before. Many older people have also reported feeling afraid to leave their home, being more withdrawn, and losing confidence and motivation.
Age UK research has also highlighted the impact of bereavement during the pandemic on older people; with many having lost loved ones without being able to say goodbye or grieve with family and friends.
The Salford Older Adult service at GMMH provides a variety of one-to-one and group talking therapies to older people across Salford who are experiencing a range of difficulties, including depression and anxiety, bereavement and loss, coping with physical health or cognitive changes, and loss of confidence due to reduced mobility.
The team knew that working creatively would be key to supporting service users at this difficult time.
They quickly adapted their ways of working, switching from face-to-face appointments to telephone and virtual sessions, using tools such as artificial intelligence smart speaker technology (although safe face-to-face sessions did continue for those who needed them).
This meant that vital contact at a time of increased isolation continued; and many service users like Alan were able to see an improvement in their mental health.
At the start of the pandemic, Alan experienced poor mental health, following the decline of his physical health due to Multiple Sclerosis (MS). He said:
“I’ve really enjoyed my life, but this all changed when I was diagnosed with MS. I went from being so active to totally losing my mobility.
“I was very depressed. I would just lie on my bed staring at the ceiling.”
However, Alan’s mental health quickly started to improve after his GP referred him to the Salford Older Adults team at GMMH, where he embarked on a project to write his life story book with Dorinda Farrington, Senior Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at GMMH.
“It’s been an amazing experience to work with Dorinda to write my life story book. I’ve really looked forward to our conversations each week. And during the pandemic when we couldn’t meet in person, we were still able to meet virtually. It’s kept me going.
“The process has really helped with my memory. We went right the way back to when I was basically a baby. We’d go into a session expecting to talk about one thing, and that would spark another memory that I’d long forgotten about. I’d end up sharing so many different stories – some funny and happy, some more difficult. But all worth talking about.
“It also helped me to connect with friends and family members. We would reminisce together over past antics, and they would even call me to tell me about thing things they had found in their attics – old receipts, photos and relics. It was great to chat about something different, other than my physical ailments or coronavirus.”
Research shows that writing a life story book can improve older peoples’ mental wellbeing, mood, self-esteem and life satisfaction.
“Writing my life story book has helped me to put things into perspective. There’s no point worrying or getting upset about things you can’t change, you just have to get on with life.
“For anyone else out there who is struggling with their mental health, don’t give up. Get help, talk about what is on your mind, and treasure every day. You might surprise yourself how much you have to offer others and how it can improve your own mood. One quote that inspires me is: Live everyday as if it’s your last, because one day you’ll be right!”
Dorinda Farrington, Senior Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at GMMH said:
“Life story books can help people to make better sense of their past and how different events and situations have affected their life, which can be beneficial in their mental health recovery journey.
“A life story book can also be a powerful tool to give others a greater understanding of the older person and the life they have lived. It can be a personal gift to be treasured by younger generations.
“I was truly fortunate to have met and shared this time with Alan. Listening, learning, and appreciating his unique story was a wonderful and memorable experience. I feel honoured to have been privileged to pen this book, actively encourage him to be creative, and help him get back his zest for life. He is an inspirational man.”
If you are struggling with your mental health, support is available. Visit www.gmmh.nhs.uk to find out more about local support services available to you; or speak with your GP. A free mental health support helpline is also available, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you live in Bolton, Manchester, Salford or Trafford you can call 0800 953 0285, or for Wigan call 0800 051 3253.
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