The UK currently has an ageing population with far more people living longer in the last four decades. This is excellent news for all of us in terms of life expectancy, but it is having a knock-on effect on people’s mental health and the support they get. Though mental health problems in older people are common, they often go unnoticed or undiagnosed.
The relationship between ageing and mental and physical health problems is gradually being recognised. According to the Joint Commissioning Panel for Mental Health, some of these issues are:
- ageism and other forms of age and mental health related discrimination and stigma
- social isolation and loneliness – maintaining relationships with friends and family
- financial difficulties
- access to affordable, safe and secure housing
- fuel poverty
- difficulties with tasks of daily living such as cooking, cleaning, personal hygiene etc
- poor mobility
- physical illness and frailty.
Since 1974 the number of people aged 65 and older has grown. In 2014 18% of the total population were over 65, while 8% were over 75. By 2035 almost 25% of the population will be over the age of 65 and the number of people aged 85 and over will be almost 2.5 times larger than in 2010. (Sources: Mental Health Foundation and www.gov.uk)
Depression affects 20% of older people living in the community and 40% of those living in care homes. Around 10% of those living in nursing homes experience psychotic symptoms (eg delusions or hallucinations) (Sources: Mental Health Foundation and www.gov.uk)
There are some issues that affect older people specifically, and there are also a number of issues that, whilst relevant to everyone, can have specific implications for people in their later years.
Retirement is a time of huge change and like any transition; it can potentially bring up a lot of new, difficult or conflicting feelings that affect your emotional and mental health. There might be changes to your financial situation and social life that have an impact on what you do with your time, the number of people you interact with and how you feel about yourself.
Although bereavement can happen to anyone at any time, it is an issue that is particularly common for older people. When someone close to you dies, the loss can have a huge impact on your mental wellbeing. This can go beyond the grief itself, for example many older people experience the loss of their independence and not being able to do what they used to love as a result of bereavement.
Dementia is a common condition that affects about 800,000 people in the UK. Your risk of developing dementia increases as you get older, and the condition usually occurs in people over the age of 65. You can read more about these issues and how to get help in our information on dementia.
People are more likely to become carers as they get older, caring for partner or another family member who is also likely to be older. Older people in a caring role may struggle to get the support they need
An estimated 1.5 million people care for someone with a mental health problem and 30% of carers will suffer from depression at some stage. You can read more about these issues and how to get help in our information on carers.
Nearly 50% of people over the age of 75 live alone and over one million people in the UK regularly feel lonely. Loneliness can lead to deterioration in health and wellbeing and is also a symptom of common mental health conditions. For older people, depression is often brought on by, or exacerbated by, loneliness.
- Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) elders
Older people from BAME groups who experience mental health problems suffer a particularly high degree of social exclusion. There is no evidence that they have reduced mental health needs and yet they are far less likely to take up mental health services. Stigma and discrimination are significant factors in this as well as a lack of access to services. You can read more about these issues and how to get help in our information on BAME communities and mental health.