The older generation make up a large proportion of the workplace, with over-50s now accounting for 31% of the UK workforce alone.
In the UK in particular, there is set to be a 25% increase in the number of people aged 65 to 79 at work. One in three of the working age population will be 50 or over by 2025, according to the Centre for Ageing Better.
However, during the coronavirus pandemic, a large chunk of the older population has been placed in an at-risk category, meaning during the lockdown and even during easing measures, they have been more isolated than ever before.
The #ChamberBreakers podcast series puts a deep lens on issues surrounding how individuals and businesses can improve mental health in society and at work — particularly for potentially vulnerable groups like black, indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) people, members of the LGBT+ community, older people and the homeless.
In the fourth episode, Lianna Brinded, head of Yahoo Finance UK, and Xavier White, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and innovation marketing manager for Verizon Business, speak to Christina McKelvie — Scotland’s Minister for Older People and Equalities.
McKelvie describes how the Scottish Government has harnessed state and community networks to help older people deal with the trauma of COVID-19.
“Older people feel they've lost time,” said McKelvie in this latest episode of ChamberBreakers.
“They are thinking of five months in a shielding situation, maybe longer if we don't have a vaccine, that’s valuable, precious time to not see family; not be able to take part in family events; to grieve properly if you've lost someone — weddings; babies being born. You don't know what you miss until you've not got to anymore.
“For the people I'm speaking to the biggest issue is lost time and lamenting the loss of that time. That can be tough. Just that thought process can lead to poor mental health.”
But with so much pressure to deal with the mental health issues brought on by lockdown, what specific help can government, NGOs, businesses, and individuals offer to society’s most vulnerable group?
One way is to buttress the networks that already help with loneliness and isolation, says McKelvie.
“COVID-19 exposed a lot of the challenges that we were already focusing on,” she says. “But it exposed far more people and in a more acute way for some. That's why Scotland’s the Clear Your Head campaign website has resources for support — it's full of brilliant information.”
Another way is to prepare people better for being older in the first place. For those that have worked their entire lives, the workplace can be their entire life.
“Retirement can be a real trigger point for mental health conditions — with all of the disconnection and loss that you feel from that,” McKelvie says.
“Giving these people the connections to volunteering opportunities or other creative opportunities is really important. One of the things that we do is get our older people involved in our public boards. Because you can have lots of really experienced people alongside younger people to make the boards more diverse. That way we understand the need out there.”
The six-part podcast #ChamberBreakers is out every Thursday. Next week’s episode features Kirrin Medcalf, head of trans inclusion at Stonewall and trans youth worker at Gender Intelligence, talking about the issues transgender people face at this time of global crisis.