Despite evidence talking therapies work well for older people, a new survey has found that people over 65 are least likely to ask for the help they need.

BACP is joining the call to redress these inequalities by urging GPs to take note of evidence showing better recovery rates for older patients using IAPT services in England and to increase referrals to talking therapy when older people present with common mental health problems.

Sian Wareing-Jones, of the BACP’s Older People Expert Reference Group, said GPs have a lot of power in their prescription pads to help older people with common mental health problems access talking therapies.

She said: “Firstly, their sincere recommendation of counselling for their patients, followed by an appropriate referral to a suitable counselling service will help remove any potential barriers.

“Then secondly, by not presuming their patients’ familiarity with the terms used for such services, but instead by describing the process in some detail, GPs can help dispel any myths, misconceptions or fears their patients may have.

“GPs do indeed have a lot of power in their hands and their ‘prescription pads’ to make counselling more accessible.”

Her comments come as a YouGov survey of more than 2,000 British adults for older people’s charity Independent Age found 24 per cent of respondents aged 65 and over felt uncomfortable about friends and family knowing they had depression compared to just 7 per cent for arthritis.

The more severe the mental health condition, the more uncomfortable older people felt about others knowing.

Most people who expressed an opinion in the poll thought that older adults are less likely to recover from a mental health condition even though data from the NHS IAPT programme shows that over 65s have the best recovery rates.

The survey comes as the Royal College of Psychiatrists unveils its new report, Suffering in silence: age inequality in older people’s mental health care.

It calls for the neglect of old-age mental health services in England to be addressed in the UK government’s forthcoming 10-year NHS plan, and for the devolved governments to act to address age inequalities in the nations.

Talking therapies work

Dr Amanda Thompsell, chair of the Faculty of Old Age Psychiatry at the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “The bitter irony is that some treatments – such as talking therapies – are most effective in over-65s, yet the stigma around mental health and fear of being thought less of by family and friends is deterring them from seeking help in the first place.

She added: “It’s really important we get the message across that depression is not an inevitability of getting old.

“Even more importantly that treatment works. In fact, talking therapies do better with older people than younger people.”

George McNamara, director of policy and influencing at Independent Age, said: “Although we know that many people wrongly think depression is an inevitable part of ageing, this doesn’t mean that they are more likely to get help.

"Older people should be able to access mental health treatment and support at the same level as everyone else, but typically this is not the case.

“Older people's mental health remains a taboo subject. We all need to overcome ageist attitudes that disadvantage older people and give greater recognition to depression and anxiety which can exacerbate loneliness and social isolation. Something that can be easily prevented if older people are listened to and get the help they need.

“The forthcoming NHS ten-year plan is a prime opportunity to address the growing need for mental health services for an increasing older population.”

Find out more about BACP’s older people strategy.