Letter: Depression in old age need not go untreated

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Sir: Though Kate James ('Maud is dead. I didn't stop her', 27 May) makes an eloquent case that older people who are lonely and physically frail should be allowed to decide to end their lives, the tragedy is that all too often depression in old age is not noticed or treated until it has progressed to the stage where suicide is seen by the affected person as the only option.

There is considerable evidence that suicide in old age is almost invariably associated with clear-cut depression of recent onset. Though depression in old age is common, particularly in those older people who are lonely and frail, it is none the less neither inevitable nor unresponsive to treatment. Such treatment can include counselling and psychotherapy as well as antidepressant drugs.

Depression in old age can and should be detected and treated early. A leaflet, Depression in Old Age, recently produced for patients by the Royal College of Psychiatrists as part of its 'Beat Depression' campaign is an important step in the right direction.

Yours faithfully,


Professor of Psychiatry

of the Elderly

University College London

Medical School

Harlow, Essex