Older people, like the rest of the population, experience mental health problems. Yet levels of awareness of these experiences, including the prevalence of different mental health problems in later life, and understanding about them, remain low.
Most current discussion on older people’s mental health – if it happens at all – tends to focus on dementia or isolation and loneliness, with the latter often considered the sole contributing factor for depression in later life. Yet a basic exploration of the evidence on mental health and older people shows that mental health problems in later life are not a natural consequence of ageing, and that a significant number of older people experience serious and enduring mental health problems.
At a policy level, the focus in mental health tends to be on children and young people and adults of ‘working’ age, i.e. up to 65. This arbitrary cut off point, however, makes little sense for a number of reasons, including the legal removal of the default retirement age, well-established shifts in the UK’s population, and the existence of mental health problems throughout the duration of many people’s lives, and not just at one-off points. There is, of course, also the financial context within which any mental health services exists to consider.
In this paper, we therefore wish to make the case that equal attention needs to be paid to older people’s mental health, and the services and support they experience, need and want.
Through sharing learning from work undertaken by NDTi and others into older people’s experiences of living with mental health problems and accessing support, we wish to begin to highlight the sorts of changes required so that a significant shift in attitudes and approach at all levels can happen in health and social care. Professionals working in health and social care services, including older people’s mental health services, will be familiar with many of the issues outlined in this paper. However, they have also told us that they too experience low levels of awareness and understanding, and can often feel isolated from wider public health and ‘mainstream’ developments such as personalisation and implementation of the Care Act 2014.
Ultimately, we wish to generate debate, discussion and action in this important and neglected area in order to improve older people’s mental health and their experiences of support available to do this.
To read the full report, click on the link on the right.