Pensioners are reluctant to seek mental health treatment because they believe it to be a “private matter”, a charity has warned.
People aged 65 and older make up just 6 per cent of NHS talking-therapy patients in England, suggesting a need for more options and support for those experiencing mental health issues in later life.
The research, published on Wednesday by elder people’s charity, Independent Age, found there were “some unique barriers” that this age group faces when it comes to accessing support for mental health problems.
Researchers found “a number of people we heard from felt their mental health was a ‘private matter’, or they ‘didn’t want to worry anyone’ and this stopped them from talking about it”.
“Others felt there was ‘no point’ discussing it because ‘there is nothing anyone can do’, or felt that stigma still existed.”
Another barrier was simply “a lack of awareness of talking therapies”, with nearly half of those polled (46 per cent) who were aged over 65 not aware that this is an option on the NHS.
“So, either people in later life aren’t sharing their feelings, or they are but when they do they’re not aware of the support available and are not signposted to it,” the researchers warned.
In its new Minds that Matter report, Independent Age says the 6 per cent figure is too low given the age profile of the population – with 18 per cent aged 65 and older – as well as the prevalence of mental health conditions in society.
In addition to the poll of more than 2,300 people, the report authors conducted in-depth interviews with 43 older people around the UK about their own experiences of mental health.
It found that one in four people believe that poor mental health is a normal part of getting older, which “too many people feel they have to ‘put up’ with issues like feeling depressed or anxious”.
The report also found that three quarters (75 per cent) of people aged 65 and older said they have experienced significant anxiety or low mood at least once since turning 65, with one in 10 (10 per cent) saying they feel this frequently or all the time.
Furthermore, only one in eight (12 per cent) people aged 65 or older believed that ‘older people are given the support they need to manage their mental health.’
The charity is now calling on the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England to conduct a review of the barriers people in later life face when needing to access support, and develop some innovative solutions – including targeted communications – to tackle these.
Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Independent Age, said: “Now, more than ever, it’s critical that we take the mental health of people aged 65 and older seriously.
“Covid-19 has brought extra challenges around bereavement, but we’ve also seen an increase in mental health problems such as depression and anxiety – in fact, Office for National Statistics (ONS) statistics show that rates of depression have doubled for people aged over 70. This is an urgent problem.
“Conditions like depression and anxiety can affect people at any age – and people of all ages can be treated and recover. It’s vital that NHS England takes a multi-faceted approach to improving older people’s access to mental health services.
“We want them to review the barriers to accessing therapy, share best practice where it’s working well, and use targeted messaging to ensure people are aware of what services exist and how they can help.”
A DHSC Spokesperson said: “We are absolutely committed to supporting the mental wellbeing of people of all ages, and have released tailored guidance to help people deal with their mental health and wellbeing, promoted through the Every Mind Matters website.
“We have provided £9.2m in funding to national and local mental health charities to support adults and children affected by the pandemic, and we will continue to work with the NHS, Public Health England and others to support the public’s mental health and wellbeing. Mental health providers are offering support using digital and remote approaches, as well as face-to-face where possible, to continue assessment and treatment during social distancing measures.”