TV and later life: a link to the outside world

4th Jul 2019
Mental health in later life

This content mentions suicide or suicidal thoughts, death or bereavement and loneliness or isolation. Please read with care. There are details of where to find help at the bottom of this page.

In this blog, Jolie Goodman takes us through why TV is important to some people in later life and how it can help with feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Making the case that TV is good for your mental health in later life

Wherever you stand in the row about who should pay for people over the age of 75 to watch TV, one thing is painfully clear, television is a lifeline for this group of people.

Television is a companion, a link to the outside world, a source of comfort and entertainment and a connection to other people, through shared conversations about what is on TV.

The 'box' may help ease difficulties in later life

The UK has an ageing population.[1] By 2030, one in five people in the UK (21.8%) will be aged 65+, 6.8% will be aged 75+ and 3.2% will be aged 85+.[2] As many as 49% of older people (equivalent to over 5 million individuals) say their television or pets are their main form of company.[3] The ‘box’s’ importance really can’t be exaggerated, for these people who, as they age, are increasingly likely to suffer loneliness, bereavement, illness and disability. TV doesn’t cure these struggles, but it can make them easier to live with.

The testimony of the older people we work with makes this abundantly clear.

We also asked people in these groups in what ways TV is important for them.

Many felt that it was a good way to use their brains and to keep learning:

“I love watching the news - only the BBC, I like to know what is happening in the world and I feel connected. I can’t hold a newspaper or an iPad with my hands to read the news, so I depend on the television."

“I learn something new every time I watch the telly, it’s nice."

“It keeps my mind sharp"

Watching television is seen as a way to feel less alone and reduce social isolation:

“It’s company, I put it on first thing in the morning, I feel most alone then."

“It’s the first person and the last person of the day to talk to me."

“When my husband was away, I would put the television on most of the time, sometimes leave it on all night, I felt safer with it on with the noise and light bouncing off it. It looked like I wasn’t alone."

People who take part in peer groups the Mental Health Foundation run in later life housing in South-East Wales, as part of our Standing Together Cymru, feel that the changes to the free TV licence are unfair.

“It is very hypocritical of the government remembering and celebrating the 75th anniversary of D-Day last week and then taking away from us this week.”

There was uncertainty about what the means testing meant “How poor do I have to be?”, “Would my bungalow I live be part of the means test?”, “Is a black and white licence cheaper, can I still get one of those?."

There were lots of agreements with this comment about how television made them feel safer and how watching television has a positive impact on mental health.

“My television was broken a while ago and I was anxious to get it fixed, my daughter said how sad I am depending on the television and fussing about not having it for a few days. I told her wait till you are my age, then you’ll understand. I know that we are meant to be independent living, but I am prisoner here. I can’t get out, I physically can’t and I can’t afford to get a taxi up the hill all the time. If I didn’t have the television, I would be suicidal”.

In other later life groups, we have looked at how much viewing habits have altered for people in later life in their lifetimes. From just going to the cinema, to renting TVs, to watching the Coronation, right up to watching on a laptop or phone, we have used this in groups to talk about change. The technological change that people have witnessed can be a way to reflect on the changes and losses they have experienced throughout their lives.

There is a lot of discussion about how to much TV and screen time is bad for young people’s well-being. The people in later life from the Standing Together Cymru groups clearly make the case that they see watching television as having a positive impact on their mental health. As well as challenging the stereotype that Love Island is only for millennials, by telling us how much they enjoy the banter!

“Television is something we can all have in common to talk about and it takes us away from the everyday problems."

Whatever your view about who pays for the TV licence, it’s worth remembering that research shows that every £1 invested in tackling loneliness can save £3 in health costs.[1]

If you are feeling like ending your life or feel unable to keep yourself safe, please call 999 or go to A&E and ask for the contact of the nearest crisis resolution team. These are teams of mental health care professionals who work with people in severe distress. If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.


  1. ONS (2018). Estimates of the population for the UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - Office for National Statistics. Retrieved from
  2. ONS (2017). National population projections: 2016-based – Office for National Statistics. Retrieved from
  3. Age UK (2015). Age UK Loneliness Evidence Review: Loneliness in Later Life. Retrieved from
  4. Mcdaid, D., Bauer, A., & Park, A.-L. (2017). Making the economic case for investing in actions to prevent and/or tackle loneliness: a systematic review. A briefing paper. Retrieved from

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