People aged 65 and over make up just 6% of NHS talking therapy patients in England, suggesting a need for more options and support for those experiencing mental health issues in later life, says older people’s charity Independent Age.  

In its new Minds that matter report, Independent Age says the 6% figure is too low given the age profile of the population – with 18% aged 65+ - and the prevalence of mental health conditions in the community.  

Access to talking therapies is even more essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, with national statistics showing that people in later life are facing increased anxiety, depression and experiencing complicated grief as a result of bereavement during this period.  

Independent Age found that between March and July this year, up to 98,000 older people experienced a partner bereavement – almost one and a half times as many as in a typical year.  

Talking therapies, which include counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and guided self-help, are available through NHS England’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme to treat issues such as depression and anxiety. People are often referred to these services by their GP. 

Polling commissioned by Independent Age for the Minds that matter report showed that nearly half (46%) of people in this age group were also not aware of talking therapies. 

The report notes that despite the low rates of IAPT referral and low levels of awareness, people in later life often respond well to this support. Data from the programme for 2019-20 shows that people aged 65+ had an overall recovery rate of 64%, compared to 50% for people aged 18-64.  

Other nationally representative polling statistics from the report include: 

  • three quarters (75%) of people aged 65+ said they have experienced significant anxiety or low mood at least once since turning 65, with 1 in 10 (10%) saying they feel this frequently or all the time. 

  • only 1 in 8 (12%) people aged 65+ believed that ‘older people are given the support they need to manage their mental health.’ 

Given the high number of older people likely to be experiencing complicated grief due to bereavement during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the increased experiences of anxiety or low mood, Independent Age is urging the Government to ensure people in later life are signposted to the treatment options available and supported to manage their mental health.  

The Minds that matter report investigated attitudes of, and towards, older people’s mental health, using a nationally representative poll of 2,316 people, as well as in-depth interviews with 43 people across the country, and a UK wide survey with 2,821 respondents. The majority of its research was conducted just before the COVID-19 lockdown.  

Chief Executive of Independent Age, Deborah Alsina MBE, said:  

“Now, more than ever, it’s critical that we take the mental health of people aged 65+ seriously. Even prior to COVID-19, people in later life regularly had to cope without their mental health needs being met, with 10% of people aged over 65 saying they experience significant anxiety or low mood frequently or all the time. 

“COVID-19 has brought extra challenges around bereavement, but we’ve also seen an increase in mental health problems such as depression and anxiety – in fact, ONS statistics show that rates of depression have doubled for people aged over 70. This is an urgent problem. 

“Conditions like depression and anxiety can affect people at any age – and people of all ages can be treated and recover. It’s vital that NHS England takes a multi-faceted approach to improving older people’s access to mental health services. We want them to review the barriers to accessing therapy, share best practice where it’s working well, and use targeted messaging to ensure people are aware of what services exist and how they can help.” 

Suzanne, 69, of Gosport, has had clinical depression since her early twenties. 

“In those days it was Valium, Librium on repeat prescriptions. It has resurfaced at various times and I generally recognise when it is starting to become an issue,” she said. “Most times I manage it with CBT, exercise, and more recently a low dosage of medication. 

“It takes a bit of internet trawling to access information, and services are often over-run. You can get an appointment with the local IAPT service for an initial consultation quite easily, but the actual therapy has a long waiting list.  

“Even with the focus during Covid on loneliness, the issues of mental health in older people as a long-term condition gets confused with dementia or Alzheimer’s.  

“My advice is, take a deep breath and find someone to talk to. Talk, talk, talk to someone who will listen and not try to fix it. It is not a failure on your part, you are not less than.” 

- ENDS – 

Notes to editor:  

UK online poll of 2,316 people. Conducted by Opinium for Independent Age, July 2020. Opinium abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles. 

For media enquiries please contact: Gen Kennedy, Media and PR Manager, on 07849 641 286 or email: 


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