older psychiatryThe current availability of mental health services does not meet the increasingly high demand from our ageing population. according to a new Age UK report.

The report, Hidden in plain sight - older people's mental health, revealed that currently three million people in the UK over the age of 60 are living with depression. This figure is set to rise to 4.3 million in the next 15 years due to the growing number of older people in our society. The NHS is not providing those in later life with mental health problems with sufficient treatment options, such as talking therapies and integrated care plans.

Age UK’s report also found that more than a third of mental health trusts in England have no policies for providing integrated care for people over 65 with both mental and physical health needs.

Mental health problems need to be recognised for how they reduce our ability to manage physical health, according to the King's Fund. By interacting with and worsening physical illness, mental health problems cost £8-13 billion each year for NHS England alone. This is despite growing awareness of how conditions such as depression impact an older person's physical health and vice versa.

Talking therapies are now generally seen as the most effective treatment for depression. Older people usually respond extremely well to talking therapies. Recovery rates for patients over 65 who have completed a course of talking therapy through the NHS are better than those of young people. But Age UK has discovered that NHS England is failing to provide older people with access to this. The NHS talking therapies programme continues to miss its target of 12% of referrals being older people by almost half. At the current progress rate, it would take until 2031 to meet this original target.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: "This is extraordinary and frankly also completely unacceptable in the 21st century. We understand the acute pressures on mental health services but they do not justify what look to us like engrained, systemic failings so far as older people are concerned." 

Age UK is calling on the NHS to ensure that plans are in place across the country to improve access to talking therapies for older people and strategies are developed to help those experiencing physical and mental health problems.