“Older people are not getting the mental health support they deserve” – BACP

Sunday October 1st was International Day for Older Persons. Yet new British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) research suggests that despite older people in the UK reaching out for help with their mental health, this age group isn’t getting access to the services they deserve.

Results of a survey commissioned by BACP suggest that although older people are seeking professional healthcare help – 73% of older people with symptoms of depression and 63% with anxiety symptoms – many are not getting the counselling they need to improve their mental health.

The work looked at whether older people were likely to visit health professionals to seek help for symptoms of anxiety or depression, (comparing these to those who went for other common health complaints), or whether the British ‘stiff upper lip’ meant that they were more likely to struggle on.

The survey revealed that 62% of older people who had not suspected symptoms of depression in the last five years would contact their GP if they did suspect symptoms, and 51% in cases of anxiety; in comparison with 84% for diabetes, and 46% for insomnia.

However, the results also show that more than half of over 55s (56%) who had visited a health care professional when they first suspected depression weren’t referred to any kind of counselling or talking therapy. For those who had gone to a health care professional with anxiety nearly two thirds (63%) didn’t get referred. This is despite the survey showing that 68% of this age group agreed that they “would be open to counselling or psychotherapy in future if it were recommended to me.”

Around a quarter (24%) of those visiting a healthcare provider for their depression reported that they were not referred for talking therapy, and instead were prescribed a course of medication, in cases of anxiety this figure was 1 in 5 (20%).

Nine per cent of those who weren’t referred by a health professional sought counselling for themselves for their depression, and four per cent organised their own talking therapy for anxiety issues.

BACP President David Weaver said: “We expected to find that many older people would still feel uncomfortable discussing their mental and emotional wellbeing; even with health professionals, but the results show this isn’t the case. They are reaching out; but a high proportion are being failed.

“With more of us living longer, we must be able to expect the support and services we need to maintain good mental health. Low mood and depression shouldn’t be accepted as ‘just part of ageing’.

“We know that older people with common mental health conditions are more likely to be on drug therapies, and less likely to be receiving psychological treatment, compared to other age groups. This isn’t fair, and BACP want to see increased access to psychological therapies for our ageing population.”

Matt Pearce