Mental Health in Older People: Challenging Misperceptions

The UK population may be facing increased life-expectancy, however, this does not necessarily equate with increased quality of life (QoL) (ONS, 2010).

According to the UK Inquiry into Mental Health and Well-Being in Later Life, supported by Age Concern, over 3.5 million older people experience mental health problems (Lee, 2007); by 2022, his figure is expected to increase by one-third.

Mental health issues most often experienced by older people include:

  • depression

  • anxiety

  • delirium

  • dementia

  • schizophrenia

  • alcohol and drug problems

Undiagnosed depression is of particular concern, with a quarter of individuals aged 65-years and over reporting symptoms of depression; only half of these are diagnosed (Lee, 2007).

Despite these overwhelming statistics, it has been estimated that 85% of older people with depression receive no psychological help from the NHS (RCP, 2009).

Indeed, it is a well-known problem that mental health services for older people are poorly developed in the UK and that health professionals can lack the appropriate knowledge and training to work with older people who have mental health problems.

Older people have a desire and need to access psychological support (Arean et al., 2002), with the ‘baby boomer’ generation breaking taboos around seeking psychological help in the form of counselling (Maples and Abney, 2006).

Despite misconceptions that older people do not need or seek counselling or emotional support, there are a number of reasons why this population is more in need of psychological support such as counselling.

Life events that might require counselling in this age group include (Mind, 2011):

  • retirement

  • ageism

  • bereavement

  • deteriorating physical health

  • sleep problems

  • loss of social life

  • caregiving responsibilities

  • financial concerns 

In my next blog, I will describe some of the counselling treatments available for older people. I will also highlight some of the implications of counselling older people, including the need for a specialist approach to this population.


  1. Arean, PA, Alvidrez J, Barrera A, Robinson GS. Hicks S (2002) Would older medical patients use psychological services? Gerontologist, 42 (3), pp.392-398.
  2. Lee M (2007) Improving services and support for older people with mental health problems. The second report from the UK Inquiry into Mental Health and Well-Being in Later Life.  Age Concern, England.
  3. Office for National Statistics (2010) Health Expectancy, Living longer in poor health. London.
  4. Royal College of Psychiatrists (2009) Age discrimination in mental health services: Making equality a reality. Royal College of Psychiatrists’ position statement and compendium of evidence. (Last accessed: May 30 2011.)

Categories: Health

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