Mental health conditions among older people “under-recognised, under-diagnosed, and under-treated”
ALONE, the charity that supports older people, has today called for additional focus on mental health difficulties being experienced by older people as the number of interventions to support mental health carried out by ALONE has increased by almost 300% in the past year.
Speaking at the Joint Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Mental Health, ALONE CEO Seán Moynihan said that in Q4 2022, 29% of the 1,926 older people ALONE assessed for their services identified they had issues relating to their mental health, but over half of these had not attended a GP for support. ALONE also cited research from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) which found that 78% of older adults who have evidence of depression, and 85% who have evidence of anxiety, do not have a doctor’s diagnosis.
“We do not give older age due consideration as a time where mental health difficulties may emerge for the first time. We do not discuss how getting older is associated with age-specific psychosocial risk factors for mental health difficulties, such as living alone, bereavement, physical illness, disability, and cognitive decline,” he said.
“While many older people enjoy positive mental health, there is evidence to suggest that there is a significant mental health crisis among older people which is not being talked about. This has become all the more evident in the aftermath of COVID-19 restrictions. Increasingly, we are working with older people who have completely cut themselves off from their family, friends, community and life in general due to fears around COVID-19 which have not subsided,” Moynihan continued.
The organisation has said that specific mental health policy, evidence-based programmes and research for older people must be committed to, funded, and implemented as part of Sharing the Vision, Ireland’s national mental health policy. ALONE has also said that the action plan to combat loneliness and social isolation must be completed, funded and committed to, including funding for Irish research, and older people must be provided with additional supports to reengage with their communities, in collaboration with experts and the community and voluntary sector.
Moynihan continued, “A Dáil debate took place in April two years ago on COVID-19, mental health, and older people. Many positive ideas were discussed, and not progressed. We believe that significant action on mental health difficulties being experienced by older people is urgently overdue.”
“As a country we put significant effort into telling older people to cocoon and stay inside, and offering them support to do so. We have not done the same to support older people to reengage with their communities. We need to identify and implement precision, research-backed interventions for the loneliness and social isolation which is impacting this group, and all other groups affected by loneliness.”
Moynihan concluded, “We have quoted repeatedly the research which shows that loneliness has been shown to have as severe an impact on our health as smoking. Why has it not received the same public health response?”
If you, or an older person you know, requires ALONE’s support please call our National Support and Referral Line at 0818 222 024 from 8am to 8pm. If you are interested in supporting older people by becoming a volunteer, then you can visit alone.ie/volunteer for more information.