Keele Professor contributes to Age UK guidance to help older people access mental health services

In the last year, fear of catching Covid-19, months of staying indoors with limited social contact, and a reduced ability to do things they enjoy has led to more older people experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety, with the rate of depression amongst over 70s doubling.

To address this, Keele’s Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham has shared her expertise with a national charity to help older people seek support for their mental health.

Professor Chew-Graham, a GP and also Professor of General Practice Research at Keele University, has contributed to new guidance by Age UK and the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies which aims to help health professionals identify and address the barriers older people face when accessing support for mental health issues.

The ‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) Older People’s Positive Practice Guide’ addresses the disparities in referral rates for talking therapies, and some of the attitudes and behaviours of professionals and older people themselves that may prevent them from seeking or accessing support. The guide also explores issues with communication and some of the physical barriers older people face when trying to access these services.

As lockdown restrictions continue to be lifted many older people will need additional support to return to normal activities of daily life.

Age UK formed a working group to help produce the guide with colleagues from NHS England, the Mental Health Foundation, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, as well as academics and older people’s psychologists. The guide is being published by the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies.

Professor Chew-Graham said: “Older adults may not recognise low mood or anxiety, which may have increased during Covid-19 restrictions. It is vital that healthcare professionals gently ask older adults about their mood and how they are coping.

“Older adults, if given the opportunity, do engage with and respond to psychological interventions – healthcare professionals need to refer older people to Improving Access to Psychological Therapy services, explaining what the services may offer and how they can help. This is an important alternative to the prescription of antidepressants, which may not be acceptable to older adults, or may be problematic because of other long-term conditions and medication.”