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Over-65s urged to ditch ‘stiff upper lip’ approach to mental ill health

12:00am | & Health

Good mental health is just as important as good physical health, but new figures show some of those most likely to suffer from poor mental health are also those least likely to seek help.

The people in question are over-65s, who are vulnerable to a range of mental health conditions but have often been schooled to bottle up their emotions and carry on with a ‘stiff upper lip’. Now, in a fresh initiative, NHS England and Age UK have joined forces to encourage older people to access treatment for mental health conditions.

New data reveals that more than six in every 10 people in the UK aged 65 or over have experienced depression and anxiety, but of these, more than half did not seek help. Instead they thought they should ‘just get on with it’, and nearly a quarter relied on informal support from friends or family.

NHS talking therapies for common mental illnesses have demonstrated high recovery rates, with more than nine in ten people getting care in good time. Yet despite this effective treatment being available across the country, only around one in ten (13%) people surveyed by Age UK said they would put their mental health before their physical health. The research concluded that ingrained attitudes towards mental health are a likely factor in preventing older people from seeking help for emotional problems.

The new joint campaign by NHS England and Age UK aims to boost the number of older people getting the help they need. As part of the drive, letters will be sent to all GPs urging 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.

Alistair Burns, National Clinical Director for Dementia and Older People’s Mental Health at NHS England, said: “Older people sometimes feel they need 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. 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 are less likely to actively seek the help they need. This is 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.

Age UK Director Caroline Abrahams explained: “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 ingrained and still driving their behaviour today.

“A further barrier to seeking support is a widespread lack of awareness about the effective treatments that are available, beyond ‘taking pills’, which many older people feel they do quite enough of already. 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.”

You can find more information on NHS talking therapies by clicking here. For a free guide called ‘Your Mind Matters’, which focuses on improving mental wellbeing, or for information on depression and anxiety in later life. You can click here to visit the Age UK website.

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