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Older People’s access to mental health care is a growing problem that can’t be ignored

Published: 06/06/17

NDTi’s Mental Health Lead, Kate Linsky responds to today’s BJGP Study which evidences the difficulty for older people to access psychological therapy services.

It’s nearly six years since NDTi published its paper on achieving age equality in mental health services: A Long Time Coming and today’s British Journal of General Practice study on older patients mental health care sadly illustrates the truth of the title. Sam Cooke himself would have good reason to wonder when that “change gonna come”. 

Older People’s access to mental health care is a growing problem that can’t be ignored

We have made more recent efforts to get Older People’s mental health on the agenda. A subsequent round table discussion took place 18 months ago and included people from Mental Health Foundation, NHS England, Age UK and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Four key areas for development were agreed upon;

  1. Have greater understanding and profile of the diversity of mental health problems experienced in later life: to take into account, for example, those who age with an existing serious mental illness as well as those who develop common mental illness.
  2. Tackle stigma and ageist attitudes: to reduce that powerful combination that together, makes older people feel less valued, prevents them from talking about their own mental health and wellbeing, and stops them from seeking help and support.
  3. Develop an asset based approach to mental health in later life: to improve the visibility of older people with lived experience and in particular raise the profile of their skills, strengths, contributions and potential in communities.
  4. Improve the data/evidence on prevalence, experiences and outcomes: help ensure equal access to a range of services and support that are known to be effective in supporting people with mental health problems.

However, despite the appetite and drive for change, older people’s mental health has still not been given the focus that it needs.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, commented on the study saying: “Mental health issues can affect anyone at any age, and all our patients’ deserve high quality mental health care at every stage of their life…its concerning that as our patients get older they are experiencing greater difficulty in accessing them”

Therefore, we hope that today’s report puts older people back on the mental health agenda and helps us – and others – speed up the change that needs to come.