Older people don't seek help for mental health


“Everybody’s better off for a bit of psychotherapy”, says Henry Marsh, leading British neurosurgeon, who is 68 this year.

Recent statistics drawn from the UK population shows that older people experience more mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. Yet many people over 60 never seek psychotherapeutic help and it is estimated that 85% of older people with depression receive no help at all from the NHS.

Ageing Population

Over the last 40 years or so, the number and proportion of older people in the UK population (aged 65 and older) has grown by 47%, now making up nearly 20% of the total population. Given that we have an ageing population, why don’t more older people make it to the psychotherapist’s proverbial couch?

One reason is clear. People of a certain generation were brought up to ‘just get on with it’. After all their parents survived the war and other traumas. This means that they can have a kind of in built prejudice to seeking help: they might see it as ‘navel gazing’ or ‘thinking too much’ about things. Or in the very least they see counselling or therapy as self-indulgent.

Limiting Beliefs

However these beliefs, sadly, can often result in a serious impairment of their life. They may be too anxious sometimes to leave the house, they may experience fatigue and loss of interest in the things they used to enjoy that comes with depression. They might be experiencing anger and irritability.

But nevertheless they remain trapped by a belief that to seek help is somehow weak. This is the ego defences at work: if we have been through trauma and hardship and, because of familial or cultural expectations, we ‘just got on with it’, that becomes our ongoing strategy. However, when it comes to the unconscious processes of the psyche, we often cannot fix it our self. We need an experienced other, to help see into the windows that we haven’t yet been able to see into for ourselves and help us to facilitate our own change from this new perspective. We are simply too close to our own unconscious processes to see through them, without someone to help us (otherwise we would have done so a long time ago).

We were made to be able to be happy in an imperfect world. It is not a sign of weakness to seek (the right) psychotherapeutic help, it is a sign of strength that we are overcoming our own ego defences.


The stats from this article were sourced at The Mental Health Foundation

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