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Systemic ageism is limiting mental care for older people, report finds

OLDER people are missing out on vital mental health support due to systemic ageism, according to a report published today.

Commissioned by Age UK, the report found that poor mental health is often dismissed by health professionals as an inevitable part of getting older.  

Researchers noted that there is no national strategy to prevent poor mental health later in life, not to meet people’s needs effectively and holistically.

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Andy Bell said that ageism is deeply entrenched and systemic.

“The absence of later life from successive national mental health plans means there has been little investment in support for older people’s mental health,” he said. “This is a form of discrimination that leaves older people without effective help.”

Age UK chief executive Paul Farmer said: “There is a paradox at the core of mental health support for older people: under-recognised on the one hand and low mood and depression treated as ‘just your age’ on the other.

“In either case, the outcome is the same: too many of us going without the care we need to maintain good mental wellbeing as we age.”

The report urged integrated care boards to review their provision of mental health support for older adults.

It also called for NHS England to review the effectiveness of its current mental health framework and ensure that it includes specific provisions for mental healthcare in later life.

National Pensioners Convention general secretary Jan Shortt noted that decades of cuts have meant that preventative health services “are practically non-existent.”

“No matter how old — or young — we are, we are entitled to be appreciated as an individual with a health issue that should be resolved, not set aside and patronised as aged and inconsequential, having ‘lived our lives’,” she said.

Ms Shortt called for the introduction of policies that create equal access for all.

Keep Our NHS Public co-chairman Dr Tony O’Sullivan said: “The mental health of older people retired from the workforce is close to the bottom of this government’s priorities. 

“This government treats older, disabled and minoritised people as expendable — as the vastly unequal Covid death rates attest.

“The NHS must be restored to be able to offer equity of access to mental health support for all ages without discrimination.”

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