A free web-based resource providing information about mental health for older people has been launched. MindEd for Older People is supported by NHS England in partnership with Health Education England.
Mental health problems are as common in older adults as they are in younger age groups yet there have been historic inequalities in access to mental health services and an under-diagnosis of mental health conditions in older people.
Older people are a fifth as likely as younger age groups to have access to talking therapies. At the same time, people aged 75 and over are six times as likely to be on tranquilisers or equivalent. This can sometimes be due to what doctors call “therapeutic nihilism” – the perception that nothing can be done (sometimes even extended to nothing “should” be done) and the misconception that conditions like depression are a “normal” part of ageing. Older people themselves may be reluctant to seek help – with fewer than one in six older people with depression ever discussing it with their GP.
It is hoped that the free online resources will help people find out about common mental health issues that can be faced in later life, and what they can do about them. They are an important step in tackling stigma against mental ill-health in older age, and in encouraging older people to seek help if they experience a mental health problem.
Professor Alistair Burns, Professor of Old Age Psychiatry and NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Dementia, said: "Mental illness isn’t a normal part of ageing – while conditions such as anxiety and depression are common in older people, the majority of older people are healthy and happy. However, there are things that tend to happen to us as we get older that can predispose to mental health problems – for example, the development of physical long-term conditions, becoming a carer, bereavement, retirement, failing eyesight and hearing, loss of mobility, loneliness and social isolation.
"This is why supporting older people’s mental health is important, particularly as people reach ‘late older age’ and are more likely to live with frailty and a complex mix of health and social care needs.
"I very much welcome the launch of MindEd for Older People which I think will raise the profile of mental health problems and provide very helpful support and advice. It is important that we continue to raise awareness of older people’s mental health so that older people with mental health issues get the care and support needed."