Charities have called on the UK governments to renew efforts to increase access to talking therapies for people aged 65 and older.

Independent Age and the Mental Health Foundation made the call in their joint report The mental health experiences of older people during the pandemic. 

It warns that the mental health of the UK’s 12.5 million older people could deteriorate further in the coming months, because of the scars left by the COVID-19 pandemic and people’s ongoing fears and problems.

The report adds that for many people there has been no happy ‘return to normal’ as restrictions eased in the summer.

The emergence of the Omicron variant and reintroduction of some restrictions add urgency to the need for suitable policy responses across the UK specifically for older people.

Our response to the report

Our Third Sector Lead Jeremy Bacon welcomed the report.

He said: "The pandemic has highlighted many inequalities across UK society, and this report is a timely reminder that the mental health of older adults mustn’t be overlooked as we continue to respond to the physical risks of Covid-19 and the new Omicron variant.

"We know that prior to the pandemic older people were less likely to be referred to talking therapies, and that statistically are under-represented in both NHS and third sector counselling services.

"This report highlights the need for policy and practice to recognise the importance of offering choice of talking therapies and the ways in which they are provided."

What the report says

The report draws on qualitative research with people in later life to highlight some of the key challenges that can damage their mental health. These include:

  • the death of a close family member or friend, including under lockdown restrictions
  • the impacts of shielding for long periods, including where people have chosen to shield for their own safety.
  • worsening physical health issues and mobility
  • difficulties connecting socially, including long periods of loneliness

These issues do not happen in isolation – many people have been struggling to cope with overlapping challenges.

The report includes data from the Mental Health Foundation and its academic partners’ wider study tracking people’s mental health in the pandemic.

It shows fluctuations throughout the pandemic in how older people have coped with stress, their levels of anxiety or worry and feelings of loneliness.

However, the report also emphasises the diversity of older people’s experiences. Many have found ways to cope – going for a walk, visiting green spaces, contacting family and friends – or have played an important role supporting others.

The report's recommendations

The report calls for policy responses across the UK to protect older people’s mental health, including:

  • more strategic and consistent bereavement support for people grieving, including better signposting to support, and training for healthcare professionals
  • renewed efforts to increase older people’s access to talking therapy, which are shown to be effective in treating anxiety and depression in older people
  • investment in infrastructure for social connectedness for people in later life

Read The mental health experiences of older people during the pandemic.