Older People’s Mental Health in a Fragile Place – But the Worst May Be Still to Come

On World Mental Health Day 2022 Age UK is highlighting that older people are continuing to live with anxiety and depression in silence and are the age group least likely to receive any help.

Older people’s mental health has been under-recognised and under-treated for many years, and we know the winter months are often more difficult as colder weather, seasonal infections and loneliness makes it a particularly challenging time. Coming off the back of the pandemic, we know many older people are still struggling with their mental health and are anxious about going out. And now there are added worries. Millions of older people are heading into this winter worried about energy bills, being able to keep warm, accessing health services, and how to continue to afford food with prices rising so fast.

The latest ONS data explored life satisfaction and feelings that the things older people do in life are worthwhile. It showed:

• 75% of people aged 70 and over and 75% of people aged 50-69 years were very worried or somewhat worried about the cost of living.
• 52% of people aged 70 and over were very worried or somewhat worried about the new variants of coronavirus.
• 33% of people aged 70 and over were very worried or somewhat worried about the effects coronavirus is having on their life right now.

Mental health has an impact on physical health and vice versa. It is imperative that older people get help and treatment for depression and wellbeing concerns as well as for physical illness. For example, older adults with physical health conditions such as heart disease have higher rates of depression than those who do not have a serious health problem. In addition, untreated depression in an older person with heart disease can negatively affect its outcome[i], making it even more important that anyone struggling with a mental health problem speaks out and asks for the help they need.

Older people respond well to NHS talking therapies. However, in 2021/22 just 5.6% of referrals to NHS talking therapies were people over 65, despite making up nearly 20% of the population and being just as likely to experience common mental health problems. The pandemic didn’t help of course, but in fact the proportion had already been declining for the previous two years before COVID-19 arrived.

Age UK believes that severe mental health concerns can go unnoticed when they affect older people. But data shows that eating disorders and self-harming do affect older people in the community too.

• For those that needed hospital care, the figures show that, admissions for self-harming had risen among women aged 60 and over from 5,501 in 2015 to 7,515 in 2019.
• Hospital admissions for eating disorders between 2015 and 2019 had nearly doubled among women aged 60-69 years and had more than doubled among women aged 70-79[vi].

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director, said:
“It’s heart breaking to think that some older people may be experiencing anxiety, depression or severe mental health problems and, for one reason or another, are not reaching out to get the help that they need and deserve.

“Reaching out for help and talking about mental health and wellbeing is not something most older people have traditionally done, even though it is perfectly normal. We all need help sometimes and feeling depressed or anxious should not be viewed as being an inevitable part of ageing. Anyone feeling out of sorts for a few weeks should seek help from their GP or a friend or a family member. NHS talking therapies have a higher success rate for older people than younger people, but older people are typically under referred.

“The good news is that we can all do our bit to help though by reaching out to older relatives, and friends for a chat over the phone or a face-to-face visit. For anyone hard of hearing, a letter may be hugely welcome. For those online, video calls offer a world of opportunities to stay in touch. Simple actions like these can do more good than you will ever know.”

 

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