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Older people less likely to get talking therapies for mental health

Older people are less likely to be referred for talking therapies for conditions such as anxiety and depression, study says.

Older people are less likely to be referred for talking therapies for conditions such as anxiety and depression, study says

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Older people are seen to be more likely to benefit from talking therapies. 
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Too few older people are being referred for talking therapies for common mental health conditions, a study has found.

Yet older people are more likely than younger people to benefit from the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme for conditions such as anxiety and depression, researchers said.

The research was conducted as part of the South West of England IAPT Evaluation Project, commissioned by the then South West Strategic Health Authority.

The team looked at over 80,000 episodes of treatment between 2010 and 2011 in south west England as part of the IAPT initiative.

Important improvements

It found the percentage of people referred from the general population by GPs reduced with age and was lowest for those aged 70 to 74.

The likelihood of patients experiencing ‘clinically important improvements’ in their conditions increased with age up to 64, when over three-quarters of patients benefited, though the benefit dipped for patients in their 70s, the study says.

‘The current study should demonstrate to GPs that older patients are both more likely to attend and more likely to benefit once engaged in treatment. GPs should perhaps therefore work to discuss mental health problems with older adults and increase awareness of the different available therapies, and their potential benefits,’ it says.

The research notes that although older people are more likely to attend IAPT services, they may not be referred because the nature of the services suits younger people better.


Pettit, S et al (2017) Variation in referral and access to new psychological therapy services by age: an empirical quantitative study, the British Journal of General Practice. doi.org/10.3399/bjgp17X691361

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