Meg Stapleton, Senior Policy Officer, Independent Age looks at Mental Health in Later Life

Public awareness is constantly growing and feeding into a ground-breaking change in how we talk about and support good mental health. However, when it comes to older people’s mental health, this is not always the case.

What about older people’s mental health?
As we grow older, we can experience a range of mental health issues, from low-level anxiety to more severe conditions like schizophrenia. Depression is the most common issue, affecting 22% of men and 28% of women aged 65+. The risk increases the older you get, with even higher rates among people aged 85+. Depression is also estimated to affect 40% of older people living in care homes.

The things that affect older people’s mental health are not unlike the ones affecting people of all ages – bereavement, loneliness and social isolation, being a carer or having a health condition. Older people may experience a combination of these, or they could happen in succession in a short space of time, potentially making them even more vulnerable to poor mental health.

Assumptions and awareness
Everyone should be supported to get the help they need, regardless of whether they have lived with a mental health condition for large parts of their life or developed one later on.

However, awareness and access to support is often low among people aged 65+. This can be for a number of reasons:

  • Older people might be less willing to talk about their mental health due to past negative attitudes, when mental health issues were often poorly understood and there was fear around institutionalisation.
  • Some older people may be afraid of appearing weak, or feeling like a burden.
  • When they do speak to a medical professional about it, older people are more likely to be prescribed medication than offered other forms of support, such as counselling or psychotherapy.
  • Many people (of all ages) think poor mental health is just a normal part of getting older, that nothing practical can help with

Some health professionals can make assumptions about poor mental health being ‘just part of getting older’ as well. Independent Age’s own polling of the general public found that 44% of respondents of all ages think older adults are less likely to recover from a mental health condition compared to younger people.

Alarmingly, nearly half of older people themselves believed this too. In fact the opposite is true – older people are more likely to recover, if they get support.

Read the full article and find out more about the Centre for Mental Health by clicking here