Mental health week: 5 benefits of life story writing
World Mental Health Day on 10 October, is a national event that aims to improve community awareness and interest in mental health and wellbeing. It is particularly important this year, as COVID-19 lockdowns have left millions of people feeling isolated and depressed.
Mental Health Day, Mental Health Week and Mental Health Month (October) events put the spotlight on the mental health of all Australians and ways we can enhance their psychological wellbeing. Depression is common throughout the Australian population, and older people are more likely to experience contributing factors such as physical illness or personal loss.
Three million Australians are living with anxiety and depression and these numbers have soared during 2020 because of COVID. Between ten and fifteen per cent of older people experience depression. Rates of depression among people living in residential aged-care are believed to be much higher, at around thirty per cent.
Repeated research studies reveal that recording life stories has immense psychological and health benefits. Depression and anxiety decrease, mood lifts and general wellbeing and quality of life improve.
Storytelling enhances mental health
According to Beyondblue, storytelling can be helpful for people with depression: ‘Sharing your story can be an opportunity to download your thoughts and feelings, help others by providing hope and encouragement, and also help break down the stigma around depression.’
Some of the factors that can increase an older person’s risk of developing depression and which may be helped through storytelling include:
- Losses: relationships, independence, work and income, self-worth, mobility and flexibility
- Social isolation
- Significant change in living arrangements, e.g. moving from living independently to a care setting
- Negative feelings like ‘I’m a failure or ‘Life is not worth living’
- Perceived change of status within the family
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness or emptiness
- Feelings of being worthless.
Documenting people’s life stories is key to the recognition, appreciation, and care of all Australians, particularly our seniors. All stages of aged care can incorporate various models of recording life stories.
For people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, personal identity can seem to slip away as cognitive abilities decline. But even as individuals lose touch with current events, they may hold on to cherished memories.
Photographs help with memoir writing, treasured objects and favourite songs all can help to stimulate fond thoughts of the past for people with dementia.
Mental health benefits of writing your life story
Sharing your personal story helps you see you’ve lived a worthwhile life. The level of interest your family members display in your history may surprise you. Sharing a life story can deepen connections between family members, and children or grandchildren can feel closer to their parent or grandparent as they experience what it was like for them when you were the same age.
Rather than focusing on what you’ve lost through illness and ageing, sharing your story can renew your vigour as you retell stories and share memories from the past. People who feel bored can feel more motivated, and those with depression may experience relief from symptoms as they share their memories.
Sharing your personal story can help you re-establish a sense of personal power by exploring ways you coped with tough times in the past and identify how you can use these skills today.
Sharing your life story can re-establish life meaning through connection to the past and reassert your feelings of relevance and importance. Passing wisdom and life lessons on to children and grandchildren and being taken seriously can help to improve your self-esteem and confidence.
So this Mental Health Week, reach out to everyone in your family, but particularly your elderly relatives, and encourage them to share their story with you. Just telling their story to someone who shows an interest in them can be a powerful way of improving their wellbeing.
Get in touch
If you would like someone to help you record and write your life story, please feel welcome to contact us at Share your life story. Our skilled team of writers will capture your memories for you and produce a beautiful book that expresses what it is to be you. Email [email protected] or drop us a line here.