Mental health services have traditionally been configured by age. This means that if someone is 65 years old, they can receive a wide range of support through adult mental health services. But a person who is only one year older – regardless of their need – may be placed in an older people’s service where this same support is not available.
For example, if someone under the age of 65 has a mental health crisis, such as an attempted suicide, they can have immediate assessment and treatment at home from a 24-hour specialist team. But people over the age of 65 cannot.
Over-65s are also denied access to a range of services available to younger adults, including psychological therapies, early intervention, rehabilitation and addiction services.
Today, the Royal College of Psychiatrists calls on mental health services to abolish the arbitrary age limit on adult mental health services. The College believes all mental health services should be available to people on the basis of need – not age.
Dr Dave Anderson, chair of the College’s Faculty of Old Age Psychiatry, said: “If we are to meet the pressing challenge of an ageing population we must remove the barrier that is age discrimination. There is no justifiable reason why an older person with the same need as a younger person is denied equitable mental health care, yet that is the current position.”
But Dr Anderson warned: “If services are to be provided on the basis of need not age, we must guarantee that the different needs of older people are understood and addressed by services specially designed to meet that need. If this doesn’t happen, age discrimination will continue in another guise. Equality is not achieved by treating all people in the same way but by respecting their differences. We believe this policy statement provides positive action and a responsible solution to this very important problem.”
Liberal Democrat Peer Baroness Julia Neuberger has lent her support to the College’s report. Baroness Neuberger, said: “When I was writing my new book, Not Dead Yet: A Manifesto for Old Age, I was shocked and appalled by the arbitrary age cuts-offs for treating older people in mental health services. This led to many cases of severe depression being left untreated, and involved many sad and distressing personal stories.
“This is a national, regional, and local problem that is not only for politicians and NHS management to address, but also for local clinicians to tackle. The call for a new way of configuring services is a bold statement from the Royal College of Psychiatrists in this revealing report.”
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Note to editors:
The report, Age Discrimination in mental health services: making equality a reality, is available at www.fairdeal4mentalhealth.co.uk. The report is supported by an accompany evidence document, The need to tackle age discrimination in mental health.