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The mental health of the elderly has been ignored due to systemic ageism, study finds


Older people’s mental health has too often been disregarded due to systemic ageism, according to a report.

Disregarding the elderly’s needs is discriminatory and has consequences for the older person, families, communities and public services, the Centre for Mental Health said.

Its report, commissioned by Age UK, concluded that there is a ‘pervasive sense of pessimism and inevitability that normalises poor mental health’ among older people.

The charity also argued there was a ‘pressing need to tackle ageist assumptions and expectations about mental health in later life’.

The report, published on Tuesday, comes after a Resolution Foundation study out last week found that younger people with mental health problems can have their chances of a good education blighted and can end up out of work or going into low-paid jobs.

The authors of this latest report said there needs to be similar focus on older people’s mental health.

A report, commissioned by Age UK, concluded that there is a 'pervasive sense of pessimism and inevitability that normalises poor mental health' among older people (Stock Image)

A report, commissioned by Age UK, concluded that there is a ‘pervasive sense of pessimism and inevitability that normalises poor mental health’ among older people (Stock Image)

Andy Bell, chief executive at the Centre for Mental Health, said: ‘Recent reports have pointed to a deeply worrying rise in poor mental health among young people.

‘We want to see similar concern for older generations, so that their experiences of poor mental health are no longer dismissed as an inevitable part of ageing.’

The authors said they based their research on existing evidence, but that findings ‘are limited by the paucity of research and policy development that is specific to our mental health during later life’.

They said there is no national strategy or blueprint to help public services prevent mental ill health in later life, to intervene quickly to stop problems from escalating, or to meet the needs of people with mental health problems in later life ‘effectively and holistically’.

Because the population is ageing, the mental health of this population is ‘therefore going to be increasingly important for health and care services to address effectively’, they added.

The report stated: ‘The invisibility of older people within mental health services and policymaking are a major concern.

‘Older people are too easily overlooked, from the design of prevalence surveys to the commissioning of mental health support.’

Mr Bell said ageism is ‘deeply entrenched and systemic, and it is causing people to miss out on a mentally healthier later life’.

He added: ‘The absence of later life from successive national mental health plans means there has been little investment in support for older people’s mental health. This is a form of discrimination that leaves older people without effective help.

‘Our briefing paper sets out some immediate changes that could make a difference. Future mental health strategies must treat older people equitably.’

The charity's report, commissioned by Age UK, concluded that there is a 'pervasive sense of pessimism and inevitability that normalises poor mental health' among older people (Stock Image)

The charity’s report, commissioned by Age UK, concluded that there is a ‘pervasive sense of pessimism and inevitability that normalises poor mental health’ among older people (Stock Image)

Paul Farmer, chief executive at Age UK, said: ‘There is a paradox at the core of mental health support for older people: under-recognised on the one hand and low mood and depression treated as ‘just your age’ on the other.

‘In either case, the outcome is the same, too many of us going without the care we need to maintain good mental wellbeing as we age.’

The report called for research funders to prioritise projects looking at mental health in later life, urged integrated care boards (ICBs) to review their provision of mental health support for older adults, and said there must be efforts in staff training to address ageist attitudes.

It said the plan must ‘challenge deeply entrenched and ingrained ageism across health and care services, creating a new narrative that values mental health in later life’.

NHS England has been contacted for comment.



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