Older people are suffering a mental health crisis, experts said today.
More than 3.5 million older people in the UK who experience mental health problems do not have enough support or adequate services, according to a new report.
Problems in mental health are far more widespread than people think, it said.
Up to 2.6 million older people – one in four of those over 65 and two in five of those over 85 – are suffering depression or serious symptoms of depression. Meanwhile, one in five people over 80 suffer from dementia.
The report, from the UK Inquiry into Mental Health and Well-Being in Later Life, involved experts from the London School of Economics, Royal College of Nursing and Age Concern.
The study condemned age discrimination in treating older people, who can suffer from a lack of independence, loneliness and long-term illness.
It made 35 recommendations for ways to improve mental health services, including challenging stigma, ageism and defeatism, working on preventing problems, and tackling ignorance.
Other recommendations included improving housing, health and social care services, and calling on the government to overturn ‘years of underfunding’ in older people’s mental health.
The study warned that the current situation will only get worse in the future.
It warned of poor services for older people with long-standing mental health problems, such as schizophrenia.
Of those older people suffering depression, two thirds have never discussed it with their GP, the report said.
Of the third that do, only half are eventually diagnosed and treated.
That means that, of older people with depression, only 15 per cent – one in seven – are diagnosed and receiving any kind of treatment.
Even when they are diagnosed, older people are less likely to be offered treatment and the inquiry said some GPs label depression as a symptom of growing older.
Dr June Crown, chairwoman of the Inquiry, said: ‘Mental health problems in later life are not an inevitable part of ageing.
‘They are often preventable and treatable, and action to improve the lives of older people who experience mental health difficulties is long overdue.’
Health Minister Ivan Lewis said: ‘This report raises fundamental questions for the NHS, care system, families and all communities as we face up to the challenge of an ageing society.
‘Last week, I announced the development of the first ever national dementia strategy and for the past year we have been focusing on the importance of putting respect for dignity at the heart of all services for older people.
‘We are also developing a new national carers strategy which we will publish in the spring of next year.’
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