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Policy Dialogue on the Mental Health of Older Persons

Policy Dialogue on the Mental Health of Older Persons

Online policy discussion

18 June 2024 14:30 - 16:00

A significant share of older persons in the UNECE region is affected by mental disorders and other mental health conditions. Despite this high prevalence, the mental health of older persons often goes unnoticed and many of those in need do not seek and receive treatment.

The Policy Dialogue explored the prevalence of mental health challenges among older persons, key determinants of mental health in later life and policy strategies for tackling the treatment gap prevalent in the region. Key insights and recommendations from UNECE’s Policy Brief No 29 on the Mental Health of Older Persons were presented and speakers from government and civil society shared concrete policy examples and initiatives featured in the brief.

Philipp Hessel (Associate Population Affairs Officer with the Population Unit, UNECE) introduced the Policy Brief and provided an overview of the prevalence of depression among older persons and existing socio-demographic inequalities. He stressed that mental health is essential for individual and societal well-being, and also a human right linked directly to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He explained that older persons face a triple burden in mental health due to ageism, stigma, and challenging life events. Yet, these issues are often inadequately addressed in relevant policies. He concluded by presenting the main recommendations of the Policy Brief, which include combatting ageism, eliminating stigma, improving mental health literacy, enhancing access to treatment, and providing support during challenging life events, among others.

The measures presented by the panelists Tom Gentry (Senior Manager for Health and Care Policy at Age UK), Dragomir Knezevic (Senior adviser at the Ministry of Family Welfare and Demography of the Republic of Serbia), Katarína Oravcová (Principal State Advisor at the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, and Family of Slovakia) and Sirkkaliisa Heimonen (Director for Mental Well-being at the Age Institute Finland) showcased the diversity of approaches to improve mental health of older persons in the region. In the United Kingdom, Age UK, in collaboration with several partners, has developed comprehensive resources on mental health of older persons, including the “Mental Health in Later Life” and “Your Mind Matters” guides. Furthermore, a “Silver Line” helpline and local counseling networks are being offered to older persons. In Serbia, the government is implementing the “Programme on the Protection of Mental Health (2019–2026)” which includes several specific measures to improve mental health of older persons, including activities to combat age-based discrimination and creating resources for caregivers. In Slovakia, centers for family counselling are being set up which provide support for mental and emotional well-being also to many older persons. In Finland, a project aimed at enhancing mental well-being among older individuals in long-term care institutions was carried out which successfully enhanced professionals' competence in the area, developed effective practices, and built cooperation to support older individuals.

Ledia Lazëri (Regional Advisor for Mental Health at the WHO Regional Office for Europe) served as discussant and provided her perspective and key takeaways. She noted that the examples presented responded to the specific mental health challenges faced by older persons and aligned very well with the priority areas of the Pan-European Mental Health Coalition and the WHO European Framework for Action on Mental Health 2022-25. She highlighted several additional areas related to mental health of older persons which require specific attention. Among others, these include addressing co/multimorbidity of mental illness, supporting older adults with the digital transformation of services and making better use of longitudinal data sets to inform policy. In concluding, Ledia Lazëri mentioned several dimensions which will become increasingly important for the mental health of older persons, such as the impact of climate change and natural disasters.

Around 60 representatives from government, civil society, the scientific community and international organizations participated in the event.


Opening remarks 

Lisa Warth, Population Unit, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe 

Mental Health of Older Persons: A Conceptual and Empirical Overview Presentation

Philipp Hessel, Population Unit, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe


Panel discussion - Catering for the mental health of older persons: strategies in practice 

      Your Mind Matters and resources for older people Presentation

      Tom Gentry, Age UK 

      Programme on the Protection of Mental Health (2019–2026) Presentation

      Dragomir Knezevic, Ministry of Family Welfare and Demography, Serbia 

      Family Counselling Services Presentation

      Oravcová Katarína, Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, Slovakia 

      Strengthening Mental Well-being in Services for Older Persons Presentation

      Sirkkaliisa Heimonen, Age Institute, Finland 

Key takeaways and call to action Presentation

Ledia Lazeri, WHO Regional Office for Europe 


Discussion with participants