EUROPEAN PAPERS ON THE NEW WELFARE

Mental Health: Another Dimension of Health and Ageing

3. Quality of Life and Life-Cycle Stages

There is much speculation about how long an average human life span can be extended. The lengthening of the average life span is the quantitative aspect of life. To make life more worth living is the qualitative aspect. What follows explores the relationship between quality of life and life-cycle stages.
Ageing is an ongoing and evolving process. Studies of ageing should therefore be concerned with the developmental process of ageing. Problems faced by the aged often have their roots in earlier years, although there are indeed new problems facing them as well.
In a larger context, individuals and families go through a series of stages in their lifetime as they mature and age from cradle to grave. There are many transitional stages with varying degrees of stress of one kind or another. To view people as well as institutions in this life-cycle framework would enhance our appreciation of the issues pertaining to the quality of life.
In the most general terms, the life cycle encompasses birth and infancy, early childhood, school age, marriage and family, middle and later maturity, old age and death. As an individual or a family matures and ages, changes inevitably occur. Independent of any external or societal problems, these life-cycle stages may often produce distress or tension because not everyone is capable of making a smooth transition from one stage to another, free of adjustment problems.
Transitions in life-cycle stages are many: from early childhood to school life; from school to the world of work; from young adulthood to married life; from marriage to child-rearing; from parenthood with dependent children to parenthood with independent grown children; from one work situation to another; from work to retirement; from life as a married couple to widowhood; etc. These and other changes often produce problems of adjustment. The degree of success in coping with these changes has an important bearing upon the quality of life.
To one degree or another, individuals may fail to cope successfully with the transitional stresses that accompany life-cycle changes. As a result, quality of life suffers because physical and mental health statuses are adversely affected. Many of these adjustment problems are magnified into social problems. A few examples will suffice: drug abuse among the youth, parent-child conflicts, marital difficulties, mid-career blues, and retirement crises. Many of these problems transcend racial and income lines and may be more readily understood within the framework of life-cycle stages.
Quality of life in the population in general and among the aged in particular would be enhanced if stress and tension attendant upon transitions from one stage to another in the life cycle could be reduced. The individual, the family, the school, religious organizations, and the government could work together to prepare people for the multitude of changes that inevitably occurs — the dynamics of changes and responses over time that bear upon the quality of life.

4. Concluding Remarks

Recognizing the interactions between quantity of life and quality of life, as well as the interactions between physical health and mental health, more attention needs to be given to research efforts and program measures, both in the private and public sectors, to ensure that quality of life issues are addressed as quantity of life increases. In short, to add years to life is the quantitative aspect of life. To add life to years is its qualitative aspect. The agenda of health and ageing will be enriched if it places greater attention to quality of life issues that encompass both physical health and mental health.


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