There is a growing recognition globally around the importance of promoting and maintaining mental health. However, this shift in understanding has resulted largely in initiatives targeted toward youth, rather than taking a life course approach to mental health and addressing the unique needs of older people.
A recent opinion piece published in The Guardian underscored the disparity that exists between younger and older populations regarding their access to information and programming related to mental health. One important distinction presented was that campaigns that combat loneliness and social isolation were more common than mental health specific initiatives for older people. Moving forward, acknowledging that mental illness is not a problem that vanishes as you age is a critical step in combating the stigma experienced by this population.
It is also important to recognize that changing the narrative around the mental health of older people alone is not enough. Denis Campbell, Health Policy Editor for The Guardian recently discussed the impact the reliance on the prescription of antidepressants versus referrals for talk therapy by General Practitioners (GPs) has had on older people. He highlighted that while almost 10% of people 75 years of age or older are diagnosed with depression, 87% are prescribed medication rather than other forms of treatment. Similarly, only slightly over 6% of all those referred to NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) were over 65 years old. According to Caroline Abrahams, the charity director of Age UK, the likelihood of GPs to prescribe medication rather than talk therapy illustrates that older people are missing out on effective treatment for their mental health conditions.
As there are many confounding factors that have contributed to the current narrative surrounding ageing and mental health, simply talking about mental illness is not enough. For more information on how individuals, organizations and governments can support the mental health of older people, contact IFA Expert Professor Nicola Lautenschlager. Whether it be through challenging damaging ageist narratives or improving access to services, promoting the mental health of older people is of critical importance moving forward.
Prof. Nicola Lautenschlager Academic, Psychiatry, The University of Melbourne
Expert on old age, conducting preventative clinical research on cognitive decline