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a frail person walking imageOctober 11 2017

GPs are being asked to look out for the warning signs of mental health problems in people aged over 55 years. A new survey has estimated that nearly half of adults (7.7 million) aged 55+ say they have experienced depression and around the same number (7.3 million) have suffered with anxiety. 

 Among the significant triggers for mental health problems cited in the survey, were:

  • the death of loved ones (36%)
  • ill health of themselves (24%)
  • financial worries (27%)

In addition, “more than a third (35%) say they did not know where to go for help and support,” and 21% of respondents who reported suffering from anxiety or depression said that their symptoms had worsened as they had got older.

The survey was conducted by YouGov research for Age UK. The charity is “joining forces with NHS England to encourage older people to seek help and is calling on GPs to spot the warning signs.”

NHS England has published new guidance, ‘Mental health in older people’, to help GPs spot the tell-tale signs of anxiety and depression, and identify a range of mental health problems including those which specifically affect older people.

The Age UK survey also found that in terms of interventions:

  • 72% of older people think that having more opportunities to connect with other people (such as joining local activity groups) would be the best way to help people who are experiencing mental health problems;
  • 35% felt that talking therapy such as counselling would best help older people with anxiety and depression.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK Director, commented: “In recent years there’s been nothing short of a cultural revolution in our willingness to be open about mental ill health, but it’s one that may well have left many older people behind. They grew up in an era when there was a real stigma associated with mental illness so for many these attitudes are deeply engrained and still driving their behaviour today.

“A further barrier to seeking support is that there is a widespread lack of awareness about effective treatments, beyond ‘taking pills’, which many older people feel they do quite enough of already.”

RCGP Chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard commented: “Older people are potentially vulnerable and we have to be careful that we don’t normalise depression and anxiety as a routine part of ageing.”

Mental health is a priority for GPs, she said, but there is still a need to persuade more people that opening up and talking about their mental health issues is not a sign of weakness. “Anxiety and depression are potentially serious mental health conditions for people of all ages and must be treated as such.

“GPs are expert medical generalists and are highly trained to deal with patients of all ages with mental health conditions, and prescribe accordingly and appropriately. It is essential that we strive to give mental health the same parity of esteem that physical health problems have – in the NHS and throughout society – and in doing so reduce some of the unfortunate, and unwarranted, stigma that some patients face.”

Links:
Age UK announcement  
NHS England announcement     
NHS England ‘ A Practice Primer on Mental Health in Older People’            
RCGP comment                 

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