Skip to main content

Hidden in plain sight: The unmet mental health needs of older people

The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, launched in 2008, aimed to increase the number of people accessing talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for common conditions like anxiety and depression. In 2011 the Department of Health set a target of 12% of referrals through the IAPT programme being people aged 65 and over. Five years later it is still not close to being met with national reporting showing it is currently at 6.1%.

At the current rate of growth in the proportion of older people being referred through IAPT, it will be fifteen years for the 12% referral target to be met. This lack of urgency is reinforced by the findings of a survey of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), which revealed that only three had set specific targets around increasing the proportion of older people accessing IAPT.

On average, older people are also waiting slightly longer for mental health treatment, in particular old age psychiatry where waiting times have increased over the past five years from an average of 22 days in 2011/12 to 26 days in 2015/16.

Many older people live with both physical and mental health conditions, yet almost 40% of mental health trusts do not have a specific policy or strategy for supporting comorbidities (i.e. the presence of more than one long-term condition). Often, physical and mental health needs are inter-related and failing to address them together can severely undermine an older person’s ability to recover from an illness or deterioration in their health. Furthermore, figures for older people detained in police stations and hospitals under the Mental Health Act suggest that mental health crisis care is not always adequately dealing with their needs.

In light of these findings, Age UK makes a number of recommendations to build on progress already made and ensure that older people’s mental health gains not only parity of esteem with physical health concerns but parity with other age groups.