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Older people encouraged to ditch “stiff upper lip” approach to mental ill health

Published on 13 January 2020 04:11 PM

NHS England and Age UK have joined forces in a campaign to encourage older people to access treatment for mental health conditions, as new analysis shows a majority of older people do not seek help.

New data reveals that more than six in 10 people in the UK aged 65 or over have experienced depression and anxiety.

Of these, more than half did not seek help as they thought 'they should just get on with it' and nearly a quarter relied on support from friends or family.

NHS talking therapies – delivered through world-leading programme IAPT - for common mental illnesses, have high recovery rates, with more than nine in ten people getting care in good time.

Despite effective treatment for mental health problems being available across the country, only around one in ten (13%) of people surveyed by Age UK said they would put their mental health before their physical health, with ingrained attitudes towards mental health a possible factor in preventing older people from seeking help for emotional problems.

The campaign aims to boost the number of older people getting the help they need by writing to GPs to urge them to look out for the symptoms of mental health problems in older people, along with making them aware of the NHS support services available.

Alistair Burns, National Clinical Director for Dementia and Older People's Mental Health at NHS England and NHS Improvement said:

"Older people sometimes feel they have to have a 'stiff upper lip' towards health, but we all have our own battles to fight and seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness, so anyone out there who is feeling down and needs help, can and should get it from the NHS.

"We should remember that loneliness and isolation can be linked to physical health problems, so getting support through a talking therapist is good for mind and body.

"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, as evidence shows it can be treated."

Although the NHS is treating more people for depression and anxiety than ever before - with the Long Term Plan expanding access to talking therapies for hundreds of thousands more people – evidence shows that older people aren't always seeking the help they need.

This comes despite evidence showing they have virtually the same chances of recovery and less chance of their wellbeing deteriorating than their younger counterparts after a talking therapy treatment.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK Director said:

"In recent years there's been nothing short of a cultural revolution in our willingness to be open about mental ill health, which is an essential pre-condition to people getting help, but it's one that may well have left many older people behind. They grew up in an era when there was a real stigma associated with mental illness, so for many, these attitudes are deeply engrained and still driving their behaviour today.

"A further barrier to seeking support is a widespread lack of awareness about the effective treatments that are available, beyond 'taking pills', which many older people feel they do quite enough of already.

"And finally, it is understandable if a lot of older people, having experienced so many ups and downs through life, take the view that feeling depressed or anxious are not illnesses that are just as deserving of a proper medical response as a physical problem like a chest infection. Without targeted action to support older people as a distinct group they are at risk of being left further behind when it comes to mental health."

As part of wider drive to address inequalities in access to mental health care, the NHS Long Term Plan will also help local areas ensure that talking therapy services meet the needs of older carers and people living with dementia and frailty, including those in care homes.

For more information on talking therapies visit:

For a free guide called Your Mind Matters which focuses on improving mental wellbeing or information on depression and anxiety in later life visit:

Age UK partner's run a range of services to help support older people with mental health problems from Men in Sheds clubs to dedicated counselling services. There is also a free Advice Line on 0800 169 6565.

-- Ends --

Notes to editors

[1] Online survey conducted by Opinium on behalf of Age UK between 14th and 18th January 2022. Sample of 1,280 UK residents (65++), weighted to be nationally representative of the 65+ age group.

[1] Online survey conducted by Opinium on behalf of Age UK between 3rd and 8th December 2021. Sample of 2,000 UK adults (18+), weighted to be nationally representative of the 65+ age group.

[1] Online survey conducted by Opinium on behalf of Age UK between 14th and 18th January 2022. Sample of 1,280 UK residents (65++), weighted to be nationally representative of the 65+ age group.

[1] 82 per cent of the 12,508,638 older people in the UK = 10,257,083 people


[1] As reported in the Financial Times, Monday 17th January 2022:

[1] On Monday 10th January 2022, the Charity wrote to the Secretaries of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP) and for Work and Pensions (Rt Hon Thérèse Coffey MP), calling for immediate action to protect vulnerable older people from the cold this winter. This was the second letter from the Charity in as many months urging Ministers to take decisive action on energy bills to mitigate the potentially devastating impact of the escalating crisis, which will be nothing short of catastrophic for many older people without intervention. In addition, the letter underlined the need for longer-term thinking about how older people with the least ability to pay can be protected from energy price rises in the future. The letter was sent by email.

[1] DWP, 2020. Income-related benefits: estimates of take-up: financial year 2018 to 2019 (Table PC1). Department for Work and Pensions. [Online]. Available at: Accessed 19/01/2022 

  • Depression is the most common mental health problem among older adults; affecting 22% of men and 28% of women aged 65+ (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2018).
  • Mental health problems are under-identified by health-care professionals and older people themselves; somewhat linked to issues of stigma surrounding these illnesses which can make people reluctant to seek help (Royal College of Nursing, 2018).


  • Prevalence of older people experiencing depression is higher among specific groups of older people such as those who are living in care homes (40%) and older carers (30%).


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Last updated: Jan 21 2022

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