Older South Asian man sits eating a biscuit in his garden talking to a younger person. Black and white image.

Older people’s mental health being overlooked, say Centre for Mental Health and Age UK 

5 March 2024

Older people are too often overlooked and excluded from mental health support, according to a new briefing by Centre for Mental Health. 

Mental health in later life, commissioned by Age UK, says that ageism and discrimination stop older people from accessing support, with poor mental health often dismissed by health professionals as an ‘inevitable’ part of getting older.  

Research shows that 75% of people aged 65+ have experienced significant anxiety or low mood at least once since turning 65, with depression affecting 40% of older people in care homes. The briefing says that too often, older people aren’t offered support – for example, older people are less likely to be offered NHS Talking Therapies even though their recovery rates are better than for other age groups.  

The briefing finds that older people face barriers to mental health support at every level: from being disregarded by professionals to facing a lack of specialist services and being overlooked by national and local mental health strategies in England. 

Mental health in later life finds that older people face some specific risks to their mental health, including caring responsibilities, multiple bereavements, living with increased frailty and a heightened risk of neurodegenerative conditions like dementia. But they are often met with a pessimism that normalises poor mental health and stops them seeking or being offered help. 

The briefing says that, with an ageing population who are living with physical and neurodegenerative conditions for longer, there is a pressing need to tackle ageist assumptions and improve mental health support for older people.  

Andy Bell, chief executive at Centre for Mental Health, said: “Ageism is deeply entrenched and systemic, and it is causing people to miss out on a mentally healthier later life. The absence of later life from successive national mental health plans means there has been little investment in support for older people’s mental health. This is a form of discrimination that leaves older people without effective help. 

“Our briefing paper sets out some immediate changes that could make a difference. Future mental health strategies must treat older people equitably. Integrated care boards in England must include older people in their plans for improving mental health care. And we urgently need more research to better understand older people’s diverse needs and how best to meet them as the population continues to age.” 

Paul Farmer, chief executive at Age UK, said: “We are just as likely to experience poor mental health in later life as at any other age, but it is not an inevitable part of ageing. There is a paradox at the core of mental health support for older people: under-recognised on the one hand and low mood and depression treated as “just your age” on the other. 

“In either case, the outcome is the same, too many of us going without the care we need to maintain good mental wellbeing as we age. Given the many challenges being experienced by older people at the moment, it is more important than ever that society, and the services we all rely on, finally take older people’s mental health seriously. We welcome Centre for Mental Health’s contribution to this vital topic.” 

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