Depression is wrongly seen as natural part of getting older
Aug 12, 2008 - 10:02:18 AM

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The vast majority of older people over the age of 65 in England have symptoms of depression are denied any help, according to a new report published today by Age Concern.

The charity found that shocking ageist attitudes held by many people, including GPs, and ageist rules in the NHS mean that an astounding eight out of ten older people with clinical depression don’t get any treatment. Most mental health services for depression exclude people aged 65 and older, despite the risk of depression increasing with age in later life.

Age Concern’s new campaign, ‘Down, but not out’, aims to improve the quality of life for older people with depression. Depression is the most common mental health problem in later life, affecting one in four older people yet it is often ignored. If depression is not identified and treated, it can lead to a life of misery. It can also cause other illnesses and, in extreme cases, can lead to suicide.

The charity will be helping older people to recognise the symptoms of depression and encouraging them to seek help. It will also be working with GPs to improve the diagnosis of older people with depression and ensure that effective treatments are available to all, regardless of age.

Poor health and problems, such as money worries, losing a loved one and stressful events like moving into a care home can trigger depression. Recently bereaved older people are three times more likely than married older people to show signs of depression.

Gordon Lishman, Director General of Age Concern, said:
“Negative attitudes about mental health problems make it very difficult for older people to talk about their feelings or to ask for help. It is scandalous that hundreds of thousands of older people may be denied treatment because depression is wrongly seen as a natural part of getting older.

“Older people deserve better treatment - there should be no excuse for inaction. Without a major change in policy and practice, there will be 3.5 million older people in UK with symptoms of depression by 2021.

“The Government and the NHS need to take action to stamp out ageist attitudes and practice, once and for all. The neglect of older people’s mental health ruins lives and must no longer be ignored.”

Awareness of depression is low among older people themselves and their relatives and is worse in some communities because of negative cultural perceptions of mental health problems. Beliefs about the origin of the illness and the high value placed on family reputation results in many black and minority ethnic (BME) elders, and their families, keeping the depression a secret.

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