Headlines: August 13th, 2007



Older peoples’ mental health issues are poorly understood, highly stigmatised and are not given the priority necessary in policy, practice and research. A mental health pandemic and an inadequate Government response mean that over 3.5 million older people who experience mental health problems do not have satisfactory services and support. These findings come from the UK Inquiry into Mental Health and Well-Being in Later Life – a major independent inquiry supported by Age Concern.

The Inquiry report reveals that mental health problems affect many more people in later life than previously believed and that the nature of the problems is wider than often recognised. It reveals that up to 2.6 million older people, 1 in 4 people over 65 and 2 in 5 people over 85, are suffering depression or serious symptoms of depression and one in five people over 80 suffer dementia. It also highlights that older people with mental health services are often ignored and receive little support services.

Women over 75 are more likely to take their own lives compared to any other age groups, and men over 75 have the second highest suicide rates of all men in the UK. Two-thirds of older people with depression never even discuss it with their GPs, and of the third that do discuss it, only half are diagnosed and treated. This means of those with depression only 15 per cent or one in seven are diagnosed and receiving any kind of treatment. Even when they are diagnosed, older people are less likely to be offered treatment and the Inquiry has heard of GPs who have called depression a symptom of growing older.

The Department of Health framework for mental health services has focused only on people up to 65, and people over that age receive different, lower cost and inferior services to younger people, even if they have the same condition. Many find they are moved into ‘older people’s services’, regardless of the suitability of these services, just because of their birth date.

The Inquiry makes recommendations for ways to improve mental health services for older people. It calls for action to eliminate age discrimination in mental health, challenge stigma, ageism and defeatism, work on preventing problems, support older people and their carers to help themselves and each other and improve housing, health and social care services. The report challenges the government to provide leadership and overturn years of under-funding in older people’s mental health.

Link: www.mhilli.org