Are Older Adults Receiving Adequate Mental Health Care?

By Beth Leipholtz 04/15/19

Suicidal ideation, self-harm and depression are among the mental health issues that senior citizens are battling without professional help. 

older adult in need of adequate mental health care

Older adults are getting left behind when it comes to mental health care, according to an opinion piece in the The Guardian by Emily Reynolds.  

According to recent research in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the self-harm rate for older individuals was around 65 per 100,000. This was based on an analysis of about 40 studies.

But these results are hardly surprising, Reynolds writes. She states that in 2014, the World Health Organization discovered that in those over age 70 across the world, the suicide rates were highest.

Additionally, the Royal College of Psychiatrists determined that 40% of older individuals in basic care clinics struggle with mental health, as do 50% in hospital settings and 60% in care facilities. 

While it’s widely believed that focusing on eliminating or decreasing loneliness in older adults could aid in this issue, that’s not the full problem, Reynolds says.

“Loneliness is sometimes presented as the primary problem when it comes to tackling mental ill-health in older people—and, while it indubitably contributes, this explanation doesn’t really go far enough,” she writes. “Many of those experiencing self-harm, suicidal thoughts or other signs of mental distress already have diagnoses—they’re people who have dealt with mental illness their whole lives. Social isolation may contribute to their problems, yes, but it’s not the full picture.”

According to Reynolds, who cites research from the Journal of Psychiatry, there is more at play. Other factors apart from loneliness include age, an individual’s history when it comes to self-harm, physical conditions and other existing psychiatric diagnoses. 

Another barrier, Reynolds points out, is access to aid—what she calls “a perennial bugbear for mental health campaigners.” Research from the Royal College of Psychiatrists has determined that 85% of those in the older population who struggle with depression do not receive the help they need.

Additionally, they are only one-fifth as likely as younger generations to be able to utilize “talking therapies.”

According to Reynolds, the solution starts with simply acknowledging who needs help. 

“And on a very basic level, acknowledging that mental illness is not a problem that suddenly vanishes as you age would be a huge step,” Reynolds writes.

“The current face of mental illness is young, white, middle-class, diagnosed with a condition such as depression or anxiety. People of color, those with more serious diagnoses and the elderly are often not given a look in at all.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.