Photo: Elsevier, 2021
Philadelphia, September 27, 2021 – Mental health systems have been in crisis for decades, prompting calls for a “revolution” in mental health services. Such a call is now more important than ever, in consideration of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which millions of older people suffered, separated by their loved ones and forced to face a variety of health challenges on their own. There are over 703 million people aged 65 or older, globally—a number that is projected to reach 1.5 billion by 2050.
Recognizing this urgent public health issue, the editorial team of The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (AJGP), led by Editor-in-Chief Charles F. Reynolds III, MD and guest editor, Dr. Kiran Rabheru, is publishing a special issue on ageism and human rights initiatives, which will outline the actions needed to eliminate this growing problem.
Within this growing subset of the population, approximately 20% will have mental health conditions, including, but not limited to dementia, depression, anxiety and substance use. Fueled by deeply rooted implicit biases towards older persons, combined with discrimination against people with mental health symptoms and people with disabilities, these biases stifle the many organizations that work on their behalf; limiting the laws, policies, procedures, and programs that can help support people aged 65 or over.
There are countless examples of agonizing and distressing stories of older people who have succumbed due to these violations against their basic human rights, particularly during the COVID 19 pandemic. These include immense suffering due to social isolation and loneliness, precipitous decline in physical health, increase in frailty, with frequent deterioration in cognitive, function and behavior.
“What you permit, you promote,” said guest editor, Kiran Rabheru, MD, CCFP, FRCP, DABPN, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. “Let us not permit and thereby promote the status quo of ageism, mentalism and ableism.”
An urgent ethical, moral and legal imperative has been created to strengthen and protect the human rights of older persons everywhere.
AJGP’s call for action
This very timely special issue’s publication coincides with the 31st anniversary of the United Nations’ (UN) “International Day of Older Persons”. Making it even more germane is the UN’s Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021 – 2030), a global collaboration bringing together governments, civil society, international agencies, professionals, academia, the media and the private sector to improve the lives of older people, their families, and the communities in which they live.
This strategy is also well aligned and integrated into the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with one of its core universal principles being “leave no one behind” (LNOB). Aging issues intersect all 17 SDGs, especially SDG #3, regarding “Good Health and Well-being”, which aims to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” The UN strategy provides “every human being regardless of age, an opportunity to fulfill their potential with dignity and equality,” according to the Director General of the UN’s World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Fourteen articles, contributed by 28 unique authors from across 12 different countries around the world, present their aims to accelerate and build momentum to transform the current global narrative of negativity bias and allow every older person to fully enjoy their life. By using a human rights-based lens, each article in this issue aims to reduce the burden of ageism, mentalism and ableism, which currently permeates virtually every aspect of older persons’ lives.
“A legally binding UN convention on the rights of older persons is now critical, and will go a long way to protect and enhance the human rights of older persons for each generation,” added Dr. Rabheru.