Jon Kemp: Pointing my finger at people over 65

Attention everybody over 65, we want you!

I really hope you got an image of the old war campaign poster with the man pointing his finger. Well now I’m pointing at you: at everybody who’s in the 65 plus bracket and also everyone who knows somebody in this age range.

For some reason this age group is under represented in mental health services and they do not seek help for common mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. I’m writing this column to try and change this.

So here I am thinking about how we attract the over 65s. Truth be told I don’t know, this is a national problem that older adults don’t come to seek support for their mental health.

I don’t really like calling people over 65 older adults. In today’s terms 65 is not old. I saw a post on Facebook the other day of a 100 year old man running a 10km race. The guy had also smashed my time. The only comfort I can take from this is he’s had more time to prepare than I have at the tender age of 32.  Age is just a number in today’s society and it’s no different in the therapy room. Just because people are over 65 doesn’t make them immune to common mental health problems.

I want to see more of you coming through the doors of the NHS and accessing steps2change talking therapies service in Lincolnshire. My reasons are partly quite selfish, really. Apart from the wellbeing of the nation, I quite enjoy working with this age group.

My experience is that people over 65 can make fast, significant improvements to their mental health. It’s satisfying as a therapist to witness this and it gives me a buzz and a sense of professional fulfilment. So I’m pointing my pointy little finger in your direction just like in the old war campaign saying we want you.

As well as pointing at the over 65s, I’m pointing directly at the people around them. Too often when it comes to mental wellbeing of older adults we only think in terms of dementia and forget that anyone can suffer from depression, anxiety or OCD. Older people themselves may be reluctant to seek help – with fewer than one in six older people with depression ever discussing it with their GP.

So ask your loved ones about their mental health. You might be surprised at the answers. Bring it up with your mum, your dad, your grandparents, other members of family or friends and ask them…

How have you been feeling? Are you anxious at the moment?

Two questions, that is quite simple. If you are over 65 and you are feeling anxious or depressed seek help and self-refer. If you know an older adult who struggling with their mental health, ask the questions and help them access steps2change or inform their GP.

If you are a medical professional reading this, direct your patient to our website www.steps2change.nhs.uk or if the internet isn’t their forte, get them to speak to their GP. The message I’m sending is that common mental health problems are treatable no matter what the age.

Jon Kemp is a trainee CBT therapist at steps2change, talking therapies service run by Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

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