Older people's counselling

Written by Emily Whitton
Emily Whitton
Counselling Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Diane Masterson
Last updated 28th October 2022 | Next update due 27th October 2025

The World Health Organization notes that by 2030, one in six adults will be aged 60 or over. With the population of over 80's expected to triple between now and 2050, we are set to live much longer. 

On this page, we’ll explore mental health amongst the older generation and how counselling and therapy can support them. 

What is older people’s mental health?

Just like the rest of the population, older people can also experience mental health problems. Young or old, age doesn’t matter when it comes to looking after your mental wellness. We are all aware that our physical health can fluctuate as we go through different life stages, but it’s equally as important to recognise when our emotional and mental health might be affected.

Older people, in particular, can be vulnerable to poor mental health. This can include feeling sad, low in mood or lacking in motivation. This can often be due to feeling lonely, isolated or losing a partner in later life. These feelings might come and go, or they may be long-term. If you or someone you know might be experiencing a mental health problem, it’s important that you seek support to learn strategies that can help you cope. 


Seeking mental health support for older people

According to the charity Age UK, older people are less likely to seek support for their mental health, despite them being just as likely as younger people to live with depression and anxiety. With older people either more reluctant to seek help or physically unable due to illness or disability, many are missing out on vital NHS treatments.

It is common for older people to be less open to talking about their mental health, as it may have been stigmatised when they were younger or they might feel that they will lose their independence if they open up. It’s important to know that this is rarely the case and, nowadays, there is so much more support available to the older generation. 


Mental health problems in older people

Older people are just as vulnerable to mental health conditions as the wider population. However, there are some issues that are more common as people age. 

Depression

Depression is a prolonged state of feeling down or low in mood. It is characterised by having a lack of interest in things someone previously enjoyed, being reluctant to leave the house or socialise, losing confidence and being critical of yourself, losing or gaining weight quickly and, sometimes, feeling suicidal or that your life is not worth living. It’s important to know that, despite it being a common condition (affecting around one in five people), everyone will experience depression differently. No matter what symptoms you may be having, your thoughts are no less significant than anybody else’s and it’s recommended to seek early intervention. 

There are many reasons why an older person may experience depression; sometimes there might be no obvious cause. Some common causes include:

  • financial worries
  • bereavement 
  • disability or physical impairment 
  • retiring or a lack of routine in older age 
  • the change in seasons - known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Anxiety

Anxiety is another common mental health condition that can be experienced by the older generation. The most common for this demographic is generalised anxiety disorder or GAD. It’s generally more common in women than men.

GAD is when people worry about many things and fear the worst in every situation. This might be due to limited mobility, losing a spouse, loss of independence, health conditions or poor sleep, for example. 

Grief/bereavement 

If you have lost someone close to you, such as a child or a partner, you might experience feelings of grief. Bereavement is the time we spend adjusting to this loss. Sometimes, talking to someone about how you’re feeling can go a long way to supporting you through the grieving process. 

Dementia 

Dementia describes various neurological disorders that affect how a person thinks, behaves and communicates. Although it can appear early, it’s most common in people over the age of 65. As it is a progressive condition, it can be especially hard to come to terms with as it worsens over time. This can bring about many feelings of apprehension and might contribute to other mental health conditions. 

Loneliness

Anybody can experience loneliness, but it’s particularly common amongst older people as they are less able to get out to socialise and see others. This is especially true if they are the only person in the household. With half a million older people going at least a week without seeing another person, it’s no wonder this age group can be prone to loneliness. 

Find out more about loneliness amongst the elderly. 


What support is available for older people?

In today’s society, we are more accepting of mental health and, while there is still a long way to go, there are a vast number of resources available to those struggling with their mental health. Below we’ve listed some resources that older people may find useful:

  • The Samaritans are available 24/7, whether you want to chat with someone anonymously or just want to be listened to. You can contact a Samaritan on 116 123 for free.
  • Age UK is dedicated to providing support for older people. Their website provides information and advice, as well as useful resources and the latest news updates.
  • MindEd for families hosts safe and reliable information for older people and carers.
  • Independent age is a charity that provides a helpline service as well as information for the older generation, including steps you can take to keep mentally well. 

Counselling/therapy 

Although it can seem difficult to open up about your feelings, it is a brave first step towards finding ways to manage and improve your mental well-being. 

Counselling or therapy is an effective way to work through your feelings with a qualified professional, who can provide support and guidance on how best to manage your mental health condition. There are many benefits to counselling for older people, including building a relationship, the opportunity to be listened to, and feeling validated and understood. It can be easy for the older generation to be ‘put off’ by the term “counsellor” or “therapist”, but Helen Smith finds the term “skilled listener” more manageable for those wanting to approach a loved one about seeking further support. 

Emotional health is vital to the well-being of older people. For those with a willingness to embrace change, counselling can be transformative.

Therapists who work with older people

Self-help tips for older people 

If you are struggling with your mental health, but don’t quite feel ready to reach out to a therapist, you could try some of these self-help tips:

Talk to someone 

Try to talk to someone close to you - whether that’s a neighbour, friend or family member who you can trust. You don’t have to open up about how you’re feeling; even talking to them in general conversation can ignite previous happy memories and positive thoughts which can be enough to lift your mood. When feeling low, it can be easy to assume that nobody wants to hear from you, but this is not the case. People are generally pleased that you feel able to start a conversation, so don’t be afraid to reach out. 

Connect with new people

Surrounding yourself with other people can be a great way to make new connections and develop friendships. You could consider volunteering for a local organsiation, joining a friendship centre, or starting a class to learn a new skill or pick up an old hobby. If you are unable to get out to see people and are comfortable using the internet, you could also consider going digital, by using video chat to call friends and family. Ask a friend or family member to help you, or seek guidance from Age UK’s information on video calling

Look after yourself 

Aside from the usual staying hydrated, eating a nutritious, balanced diet and doing exercises (making sure this is within your body’s capabilities) it’s also important to be kind to yourself and do more of the things you love. Perhaps you’re a keen cook or enjoy reading a good novel - whatever your interests, make time for them and your mind will thank you for it. 

Finding appropriate care 

If looking after yourself might mean receiving some further help, either from family or a carer, that’s OK. Although it might feel like letting go of your independence, that is not the case and it’s important to take the steps needed so that you can live comfortably. Your care needs may vary from having someone check in and prepare your meals or you might need help getting up, washed and dressed, and getting back into bed at the end of the day. Whatever support you need, it can seem overwhelming trying to organise the appropriate help. For more information on how to arrange this, visit Age UK.

If you are caring for an older person, you can find out more about the types of support available to you on our carer support page. 

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