Older people encouraged to ditch 'stiff upper lip' approach to mental health

Older people are being encouraged to ditch the 'stiff upper lip' approach to mental health.

There are fears isolation and loneliness leave many pensioners depressed, but many are likely to simply make light of how they feel, and dismiss their condition as 'the blues' or 'being down in the dumps'.

Even fewer are contacting their doctor for help.

Alan Parker became so low he considered suicide - but thanks to help from his GP, he's now looking forward to the future.

Paralysed from the neck down with Multiple Sclerosis he felt his life was over.

Alan told me: "There was nowhere to go. I couldn't do anything so I just wanted an out. I just didn't want to go on."

Alan Parker has MS and is paralysed from the neck down

Alan's GP referred him to a Psychology Service which provides mental health support for older people.

Helped by his mental health nurse Dorinda Farrington - the 76-year-old started writing his life story.

Alan said: "The writing of this book has been a big thing. Instead of lying there talking to nobody or taking to the ceiling - you look forward to a regular weekly conversation with somebody. It's really helped me."

Dorinda's helped Alan to write his life story

Dorinda Farrington is a Senior Mental Health Nurse Practitioner for Salford Older Adult Primary Care Psychological Therapies Service, part of Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust.

She's been working with Alan for the past two years.

She said: "It was very obvious Alan was really fed up. Getting people to tell their life stories is a technique we use in therapy.

"It gives them the chance to recall memories and also to realise that story hasn't ended. It can be quite cathartic to talk and have someone listen."

Alan added: "Dorinda's helped me to remember things in my life I've forgotten and it's really helped me to look forward to doing things.

"It's made me want to see what the next chapter is because there is going to be a next chapter. "

Pat McElhill's son died from Covid a year ago, she says therapy has helped her deal with her grief.

Pat McElhill's son Kevin died from Covid a year ago - for months the 77-year-old could barely get out of bed.

Pat told me: "I just wanted to go in the grave with him. I didn't see any point to anything when that happened.

"I've never wanted to take my own life, ever, but you get close to that. Is anything worth it anymore? You battle with yourself all the time and it gets hard some days."

Talking to a therapist from the Salford Older Person's Service has helped Pat process her feelings.

She said "In my hour session I can scream, swear, sing, don't talk at all, rabbit on, whatever way I want that hour to go. I think they've saved me.

"I don't know for how long but I'm here and I'm trying to do my best."

Dr Ruth Fox, clinical psychologist

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, one in four people over 65 experience depression.

But fewer than one in six seek help from their GP and less than 7% of referrals for psychological therapy are for older people.

That's something Salford Older Adult Primary Care Psychological Therapies Service is trying to change.

Dr Ruth Fox, a clinical psychologist and team lead, says the service is working hard to encourage more older people in need to access NHS mental health services.

Dr Fox said: "I think there can a misconception among health professionals and GPs that that becoming depressed is a natural part of ageing and a belief that older people may not benefit from psychological therapies.

"There also tends to be more of a focus on their physical health so often mental health difficulties can be overlooked."

Anna Youssef telling Gamal and Lucy why some elderly people are reluctant to ask for help

If you or someone you know is struggling with your mental health, support is available. The 24/7 mental health helpline is available any time, day or night, on 0800 953 0285 if you’re in Bolton, Salford, Trafford or Manchester, or 0800 051 3253 if you're in Wigan. Or, visit www.gmmh.nhs.uk or speak with your GP to find out about local support services available to you.

If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 999. You should attend your local NHS Accident & Emergency if you need urgent physical health care or require an urgent mental health assessment.

Worried about mental health?


CALM, or the Campaign Against Living Miserably, runs a free and confidential helpline and webchat – open from 5pm to midnight every day, for anyone who needs to talk about life’s problems.

It also supports those bereaved by suicide, through the Support After Suicide Partnership (SASP).

  • Phone their helpline: 0800 585858 (Daily, 5pm to midnight)

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Mind is a mental health charity which promotes the views and needs of people with mental health issues.

It provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem, and campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.

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For practical, confidential suicide prevention help and advice you can contact PAPYRUS HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039967 or email pat@papyrus-uk.org

Suicide is the biggest killer of young people in the UK. PAPYRUS aims to reduce the number of young people who take their own lives by breaking down the stigma around suicide and equipping people with the skills to recognise and respond to suicidal behaviour.

HOPELINEUK is the charity’s confidential helpline service providing practical advice and support to young people with thoughts of suicide and anyone concerned about a young person who may have thoughts of suicide.

HOPELINEUK is staffed by trained professionals, offering a telephone, text and email service.

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Samaritans is an organisation offering confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.

  • Phone 116 123 (a free 24 hour helpline)

  • Email: jo@samaritans.org

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YoungMinds is a resource with information on child and adolescent mental health, but also offers services for parents and professionals.

It is the UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people's mental health, and wants to make sure all young people can get the mental health support they need, when they need it

  • YoungMinds Textline - Text YM to 85258

  • Phone Parents' helpline 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am - 4pm)

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