Latest figures show that people aged over 65 are missing out on one of the best treatment options for their mental health, at a time when support has never been more needed.

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.

NHSE figures consistently show that people aged 65 and over have the best mental health recovery rates when receiving talking therapy of all age groups. Despite this, referrals for this group remain low compared to other age groups, and the number of people in later life being referred to IAPT fell by approximately 20% in 2020.

Figures from NHS Digital show that between October and December 2019, 24,776 people aged 65+ were referred to talking therapy through NHSE. For the same quarter in 2020, the figure was 19,518 — a fall of over 5,000 referrals.

Although referral numbers have started to pick up again since December, 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.

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.

"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.”

2018/219 figures from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) show that:

  • depression affects 15–20% of people in their late 60s and early 70s.
  • ELSA data also shows that depression increases with age past this point, affecting more than 30% of people in their late 80s and over 90 years old.


Figures from the Office for National Statistics also show that:

  • The proportion of people aged 70+ reporting depressive symptoms has doubled from 5% from before the pandemic (July 2019-March 2020) to 10% recently (Jan-March 2021).


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.

This week the British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) along with Age UK, are expected to publish a best practice guide for IAPT and older people which aims to support GPs, commissioners and providers by giving practical examples of what works to improve older people’s access to and experiences of IAPT services.

Deborah Alsina MBE continues: “We know people across the NHS are working incredibly hard, but it is essential that the mental health needs of people in later life don’t go unsupported. We are calling on NHSE to promote this guidance across the NHS and for GPs to put it into practice to increase the number of people in later life receiving this much needed therapy.”

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For media enquiries please contact

Akila Jayamaha, Media and PR Officer at Independent Age on 077 3269 1470, Out of Hours: 07545 209589

24-hour media enquiries 07545 209 589

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