Most older people do not seek help for mental health issues due to lack of awareness about the effective treatments that are available and ingrained attitudes towards emotional problems.

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

One in ten (13%) of people surveyed also said they would put their mental health before their physical health.

NHS England and Age UK have joined forces in a campaign to encourage older people to access treatment for mental health conditions, 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.

Time to ditch the a ‘stiff upper lip’ towards mental health

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 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.

“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.”