Ageism: alive and well, despite a dearth of leaders who are elderly.
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
Much has been said, generally positively, about how long Queen Elizabeth II lived, along with the longevity of her 70 years of service. In contrast, the United Kingdom has had 4 much younger Prime Ministers over the last 6 years. In the United States, the last 2 Presidents have also been elderly.
By that leadership age data, you might assume that ageism, the discrimination against the elderly, would be low. Why value or choose elder leaders if there is prejudice against the aged, unless they are just viewed as exceptions?
However, everyday ageism is alive and even thriving in the United States. In the December 2019 National Poll on Healthy Aging, the Everyday Ageism Scale conveyed that over 90% of the elderly reported regularly experiencing at least 1 form of everyday ageism, with about 80% having internal ageism, 65% exposed to ageism messages, and about 45% experiencing ageism in relationships.1 Moreover, this everyday ageism is linked to increased depression and poorer physical health in people over the age of 50.
Given such negative repercussions of aging, more mental health care services should be available, but in Great Britain there has been more age discrimination in psychiatry than the rest of health care.2 The response to such a situation has been some worldwide push to increase the number of geriatric psychiatrists.3
Despite the discriminatory ageism, the elderly are seen as being more likely to achieve wisdom. More life experiences often contribute to that wisdom. Time matters, too, as new research indicates, at least how it is spent.4 Whatever practically helps one to spend more time with valued others over the years produces more happiness in the elderly.
It seems that in many so-called advanced countries, there is a mixed message about aging. On the one hand, elderly leaders are still valued for their leadership, while on the other hand, derision of the elderly is common and mental health services inadequate for the ensuing increase in psychiatric problems. In addition, the rapid development and knowledge of high tech is mainly a younger persons’ domain.
The solution for how to resolve these disparities? Ageism has not received anywhere near the same attention in society and psychiatry as other areas of discrimination such as racism and sexism. Especially as the numbers of the elderly increases, perhaps it is high time for psychiatry to pay more attention to this social challenge of well-being. There may be no better model to analyze in that regard than the Queen.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.
1. Malani P, Kullgren J, Solway E. National Poll on Healthy Aging (NPHA), [United States], December 2019. Accessed September 13, 2022. https://www.openicpsr.org/openicpsr/project/171621/version/V1/view
2. Anderson D. Age discrimination in mental health services needs to be understood. The Psychiatrist. 2011;35(1):1-4.
3. Cheung G, Bailey A, Subau D, Martínez-Ruiz A. International perspectives on old age psychiatry training. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2019;27(7):695-705.
4. Bo B. Socioeconomic status, time scarcity and well-being in retirement. Innov Aging. 2021;5(Suppl 1):906.