Independent Age is calling for a concerted and sustained effort to ensure more older people access mental health support after figures from NHS Digital showed referrals for this group remain low compared to other age groups.

It found older patients are missing out on talking therapy even though people over 65 years have the best recovery rates of all age groups.

In England, the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme is the NHS first-line response to common mental health problems. The IAPT programme offers talking therapy to tackle common mental health problems like anxiety and depression.

The number of people in later life being referred to IAPT fell by approximately 20% in 2020.

Independent Age says this decrease in referrals for people aged 65 and over is still worrying at a time when support was most needed, and considering referrals pre-pandemic were already very low for people in this age group.

Older people have struggled with their mental health during the pandemic

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said: “Our services teams around the country, and those who work on our helpline have heard throughout the pandemic from people in later life struggling with their mental health. This includes those who have been shielding for many months, those struggling with additional caring responsibilities and others who are grieving the loss of a friend or family member.

“People over 65 are being disadvantaged from getting the right support to address any mental health challenges and that cannot be right.  There needs to be a concerted and sustained effort to ensure that everyone is getting access to the right support, regardless of their age. Mental health problems are not an inevitable part of ageing, and people over 65 deserve the same opportunity, as younger people, to improve their mental health.”

The charity says that pre-pandemic, referral rates to talking therapy were already too low with only 6% of the total number of referrals to IAPT being people over 65.

In their 2020 report, Minds that matter, Independent Age called for GPs, talking therapy commissioners and providers in England to signpost talking therapy and the benefits it can offer to people in later life.