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Mental health services are failing older people

Published on 12 October 2016 12:01 AM

According to a new Age UK report, the current availability of mental health services does not meet the increasingly high demand from our ageing population.

The report, Hidden in plain sight - older people's mental health (PDF 891 KB), revealed that:

  • Currently 3 million people in the UK over the age of 60 are living with depression
  • This figure is set to rise to 4.3 million in the next 15 years due to the growing number of older people in our society
  • The NHS is not providing those in later life with mental health problems with sufficient treatment options, such as talking therapies and integrated care plans.

The link between mental and physical health

The Age UK report also found that over a third of Mental Health Trusts in England have no policies for providing integrated care for people over 65 with both mental and physical health needs.

Mental health problems need to be recognised for how they reduce our ability to manage physical health, according to the King's Fund. By interacting with and worsening physical illness, mental health problems cost £8-13 billion each year in NHS England alone.

This is despite growing awareness of how mental health problems such as depression impact an older person's physical health and vice versa.

Gaps in care which must be addressed

Talking therapies are now generally seen as the most effective treatment for depression.

Older people usually respond extremely well to talking therapies. Recovery rates for patients over 65 who have completed a course of talking therapy through the NHS programme are actually better than those of young people.

But Age UK has discovered that NHS England is failing to provide older people with access to this. The NHS talking therapies programme continues to miss its modest target of 12% of referrals being older people by almost half. At the current progress rate, it would take until 2031 to meet this original target.

'This is extraordinary and frankly also completely unnacceptable in the twenty first century. We understand the acute pressures on mental health services but they do not justify what look to us like engrained, systemic failings so far as older people are concerned.' - Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK

What should happen next?

Age UK is calling on the NHS to make sure that:

  • Plans are in place across the country to improve the access to talking therapies for older people
  • Strategies are developed to help the many older people suffering with both physical and mental health problems.

Last updated: Oct 06 2017

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