A third of older people aged 60 and over are feeling more anxious (34%) and less motivated to do the things they enjoy (36 percent) since the start of the pandemic, according to a recent poll by Age UK.
Age UK asked over 1,300 older people across the UK, how their health and mental wellbeing had changed in the last six months. The results revealed that large numbers of older people aged 60 and over are feeling more anxious:
• 27% of older men and 40% of older women said they felt more anxious.
• 45% of older people with health conditions said they felt more anxious and 45% of older people advised to shield said they felt this way.
• 37% of people from lower social grades reported feeling more anxious, compared to 30% of those from higher social grades.
When asked whether they were feeling a lack of motivation to do the things they would ordinarily enjoy, a similar trend emerged – with nearly half of those with health conditions reporting they lacked their usual motivation (46%) as well as 41% of people from lower social grades. Age UK has also been hearing from older people who are struggling to get out of bed and dressed in the morning and say that they feel like every day is the same.
Recent data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) is showing similarly worrying findings. They found that in Great Britain[i]:
• 33% of people aged 60 and over are reporting high levels of anxiety
• 44% of people aged 60 and over are either uncomfortable or very uncomfortable leaving the house because of covid.
• 43% of people aged 60 and over say that their well-being is being affected by the pandemic.
To help tackle these worrying findings, Age UK is working with NHS England to encourage older people to reach out for help if they are struggling to cope with their mental health as part of the Help Us Help You campaign which is launching on 17 November. Not all those people who are feeling more anxious through the pandemic will go on to need professional support. The Every Mind Matters website provides useful self-help resources for mental health.
For those who would like professional help, NHS services are still open to support people with mental health concerns and it is important not to delay getting help. NHS talking therapy treatments (IAPT) have high success rates in treating older people experiencing anxiety and depression. Even though the pandemic has meant that face to face appointments may not always be possible- talking therapy treatments have adapted to continue digitally or over the phone with just as good a success rate. Older people can either get help by speaking to their GP or referring themselves directly to their local IAPT service.
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK Charity Director, said: “The pandemic brought sudden changes to all of our lives and that has naturally affected our feelings and mood leaving many of us feeling low, panicky, frightened or having problems sleeping – and it doesn’t look like the virus is going away any time soon with numbers of infections increasing, and restrictions tightening again. For some older people the next six months, coupled with the challenges that winter brings will be a terrifying prospect.
“Older people with depression and anxiety may not recognise the symptoms or they may not know what support is available. It is important that all older people know they do not have to cope alone and that the NHS is still there to support them with their mental health.”
Professor Alistair Burns, NHS England National Clinical Director for dementia and older people’s mental health, said: “The extraordinary events of this year have been challenging for older people and no one should feel ashamed, reluctant or worried about asking for help.
“NHS staff are delivering services in new and innovative ways, including telephone and video assessments, so that talking therapy services and other forms of support are still there for people who need them. NHS talking therapies can help you to discuss feelings of anxiety or depression – your GP can refer you, or you can refer yourself online.”
While one in four older people were already living with a common mental health condition before the pandemic, Age UK studies show that many older people don’t seek professional help as they don’t want to worry people or think ‘they should just get on with it’ They may also think that depression is inevitable in later life and that there isn’t anything which can be done. This couldn’t be further from the truth, with older people actually more likely to recover from a mental health problem after accessing talking therapies than younger people.
Caroline continued: “Depression shouldn’t be seen as a normal part of ageing and we need to challenge the assumption that older people should just put up with it. It’s never too early or too late to seek professional help, and during this time it is vital that we all take steps to look after emotional wellbeing.”