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NDTi calls for action to improve Mental Health services for older people

Published: 01/10/15

The National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi) today releases a discussion paper, Mental Health in Later Life – Striving for Equality. It shows that older people living with mental health problems are not accessing treatment and proven interventions. They are struggling to make themselves heard due to stigma and persistent age discrimination in mental health services.

An NDTi data review reveals more than twice the number of older people live with depression than dementia. 16% of people aged 60 and over have depression, compared to 7% of people over 65 in the UK with dementia.

NDTi’s Older Leaders for Change in Mental Health project, funded by Comic Relief, reveals many feel ignored and stigma is still a very real problem. Messages from this group of older people with living with mental health conditions include:

  • Older people want the opportunity to speak about their experience and influence change, but find themselves excluded and marginalised.
  • Stigma in mental health and age discrimination across services and systems prevent many older people from speaking up and seeking the right help and support.
  • Apart from older people with lived experience and older people’s mental health services, mental health in later life is not on anyone else’s radar.

Helen Bown, head of policy and research at NDTi says:
“I find it profoundly shocking that older people with mental health problems are still not treated equally. NDTi has done a considerable amount of work over the years with older people to support them in getting their voices heard and take a lead in tackling age discrimination and stigma. But our research demonstrates there is still a long way to go. We are calling on policy makers, health & care leaders and practitioners to acknowledge this problem so we can work together to tackle it.”

Even without the impacts of age discrimination in mental health services and the low profile of older people with mental health problems, the complex structures and systems surrounding mental health services can create a barrier to good mental health for many older people. In practice, assessment and commissioning for older people with mental health problems falls between different roles and responsibilities in the NHS and Local Authorities. Organisations tend to respond either to someone’s age or their mental health problem, but rarely both their age and their mental health needs.

Older people and depression – the facts

Evidence shows that mental health problems in later life are not a natural consequence of ageing. But the causes of depression among older people are complicated. There is a strong relationship between physical and mental health among this age group. Addressing social isolation among older people is not enough. They need access to the full range of treatments for depression and physical health problems.

  • 16% of people aged 60 and over, and 21% of people aged 80 and over have depression.
  • Rates of depression may be even higher in sheltered accommodation - a study found 24% of people living in sheltered accommodation had depression.
  • More than 2% of people aged 65 or over report having had suicidal thoughts in the past year.
  • 71% of men aged 65 and over who report their health as very bad are depressed compared to just 6% of those who report their health as very good.
  • 45% of women 65 and over with a limiting longstanding illness are depressed compared to 13% without .
  • 23% of those aged 52 and above who have a mobility impairment are depressed compared to 7% of those who are more mobile.

As a result of its ongoing work in this area NDTi has identified three priorities for change to give older people access to better mental health.

  • Tackle the ‘double stigma’ of mental health and ageism.
  • Develop a shared vision and agenda for change for better mental health in later life.
  • Equal access to a range of services, treatments and interventions.

NDTi is organising an invitation-only round table on 2 December bringing together older people, policy makers and providers to develop a shared vision and agenda for change in mental health in later life. Anyone interested in being involved should contact [email protected]

Further details are available in the full paper, which can be downloaded from the link on the right, along with notes of the round table held on 2 December 2015.