Older people with depression are being denied help, according to a report released today. Those seeking help are often fobbed off, misdiagnosed or given inappropriate treatment.

Doctors may prescribe drugs such as Prozac when counselling would offer more benefit. And the numbers given psychological help are far lower than in the general population.

The study, by Age Concern, said more than two million over-65s in England have symptoms of depression. It said: "Older people have more limited access to psychological therapies than younger people. Fewer than 10 per cent of older people with clinical depression are referred to specialist mental health services compared with about 50 per cent of younger adults. Ageist attitudes can alsoinfluence the treatments that GPs believe are suitable for older people."

In some cases, GPs are unable to refer older people to parts of the NHS that could help, because of rules excluding over-65s.

The charity has launched a campaign, Down, But Not Out, to improve the lives of older sufferers of depression. Concerns over money, losing a loved one or moving into a care home can trigger depression.

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern, said: "It is scandalous that older people may be denied treatment because depression is wrongly seen as a natural part of getting older.

"Without a major change in policy and practice, there will be 3.5 million older people in UK with symptoms of depression by 2021."