Last Sunday, Dr Ellie Cannon, The Mail on Sunday’s GP columnist, gave an honest account about her 15-year battle with crippling anxiety.

She described feeling ‘completely irrational’ dreadful feelings, which she said caused overwhelming nausea, heart palpitations, and extreme tiredness. 

She is currently taking antidepressants that have proven to be ‘incredibly effective’ in keeping her symptoms under control.

This article has unleashed an underground tide of anxiety disorders in older adults. 

The Mail on Sunday has received a torrent of readers’ letters, thanking Ellie for highlighting anxiety as a problem that not only affects young people – as is often portrayed.

Some people in their 70s claim that they have felt this way for 40+ years. They keep their pain from their loved ones out of fear of embarrassment. 

Others refused to take medication for years before they found them useful.

“Why I have anxiety is something I don’t know.” Val Bradshaw, 72, said that she had a happy childhood so there’s nothing to blame. 

“I started antidepressants 30+years ago and have been using them since. I used to feel embarrassed that I was on medication. But it allows me to live a normal existence.

Carol Townsend (77) said that she’d spent most of her life on a’red alert’ for no good reason. 

Dr Ellie Cannon gave an honest account of her 15-year struggle with disabling anxiety last week. She told of being plagued by 'entirely irrational' feelings of dread, triggering overwhelming nausea, heart palpitations and extreme tiredness. (Pictured: Dr Ellie Cannon appeared on This Morning earlier this month to tell Holly and Phil about her experiences taking anti-depressants and why there is no shame in seeking help)

Last week, Dr Ellie Cannon shared her honest account of her 15-year battle with crippling anxiety. She described feeling ‘entirely unrational’ anxiety that caused overwhelming nausea, heart palpitations, and extreme tiredness. (Pictured – Dr Ellie Cannon spoke to Holly and Phil earlier this month about her experience with antidepressants and why it is not shameful to seek help.

She first saw her GP a decade ago. 

‘I spoke to a psychiatrist friend who told me there was no shame in taking tablets – and to go to the doctors.

“I have been taking Citalopram low doses for ten years. [common anti-anxiety medication]I’ve always maintained a steady pace. I am able to cope with everything and I feel so much happier. It’s good to live.

Top experts were ‘not surprised’ by the number of older Britons battling anxiety – thought to affect one in six people.

Anxiety is a common problem among older patients. Dr Clare Gerarda, a psychiatrist who specializes in psychiatry, says that medication to treat anxiety or depression is one of the most commonly prescribed medications. 

“As you get older, you’re more susceptible to serious health conditions. The stress of physical illness often triggers mental problems. 

“Older people are more likely to be caregivers or have anxiety-inducing duties than younger people.”

Many people who wrote to Dr Ellie attributed their anxiety to caring responsibilities. 

One 59-year-old who began taking medication earlier this year – after a decade of suffering – said supporting her mother through throat cancer ‘fuelled’ her anxiety.

Others felt anxious after a stroke or dementia diagnosis, or while caring for a loved one. 

Top experts were 'not surprised' by the number of older Britons battling anxiety – thought to affect one in six people (file photo)

Top experts were ‘not surprised’ by the number of older Britons battling anxiety – thought to affect one in six people (file photo) 

According to NHS England data, approximately 15% of the population aged 16-24 years old reported symptoms.

Experts say that anxiety in older adults is “vastly underestimated”.

Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at University College London, Dr Robert Howard, says, “It is a huge issue, as much as depressive and dementia.” 

‘It sounds trivial but it isn’t – often patients are inconsolable. It is also less well-known among older people because they are embarrassed to discuss it.

Experts believe that more people over 65 are now struggling since the pandemic. 

According to data from the Office for National Statistics, a third of those over 60 were experiencing high levels of anxiety in November 2013. 

A second poll of 1,300 older adults conducted by Age UK revealed that 40% of older women felt more anxious following a pandemic. The same was true for 27% of men.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder is the most common type of anxiety. This causes patients to feel anxious all the time and is unrelated to any particular event.

It is thought to affect roughly six per cent of the population – although only one in ten are diagnosed, according to studies.

The NHS recommends a combination cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressants, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibiters (SSRIs). This helps patients cope with anxiety.

Many readers mentioned being prescribed pills, but not many spoke of being offered therapy.

Prof Howard says that it was difficult in the past to get older people into therapy because of stigmatization and embarrassment. 

“But that is changing. “But that is changing. Older adults are now just as open about sharing their feelings as younger ones, especially if they are nearing the end.

Prof Howard believes that access to therapy is more difficult than it seems.

According to the most recent NHS figures, 1.6million Britons wait on specialist therapy. 

According to NHS Providers, another eight million people will be in pain but not deemed sick enough to be treated.

Studies show mixed results for the effectiveness of antidepressants for anxiety – the figure can be as low as a third.

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“Ideally, I wouldn’t recommend medication for anxiety. Prof Howard states that medication for anxiety tends to work only if there is also depression.

But judging by readers’ letters, when they do work – they work well.

Mike Scott, 58 years old, wrote: “I have been on Amitriptyline.” [an older type of antidepressant known as a tricyclic]For 20 years. 

“It has been a game changer in my life.” It has not only helped my anxiety but also reduced my migraines.

Patients, especially those in their older years, should be closely monitored. Studies have shown that older people are more susceptible to serious side effects like elevated blood pressure and abnormal heart rhythms. 

Professor Howard says that regular blood tests can detect signs before it becomes severe. Doctors can adjust dosages accordingly. He states that SSRIs should only be prescribed to treat anxiety.

However, readers mention other medications such as Oxazepam or Diazepam with less favorable outcomes. 

One man, who has suffered from anxiety for 30+ years, claimed that Oxazepam left them shaking and unable to perform basic tasks.

Others spoke of becoming addicted and exhaustion. Professor Howard stated that these “outdated” treatments are too often prescribed.

“Zwanzig or thirty years ago, if someone was feeling anxious, doctors would prescribe these drugs called benzodiazepines. These drugs are used to treat seizures and insomnia. 

“But, we now know that they stop working after a while, and patients can become addicted. They can also cause anxiety to worsen over time, which is paradoxical.

Professor Howard however, says that a new type psychological therapy is promising and may soon become more widely available.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which helps patients identify and change behaviours that unknowingly exacerbate anxiety – has shown to be highly effective in a number of studies.

A 2019 Australian review of 20 studies concluded that ACT digital courses significantly improved anxiety symptoms in 18 of the trials. Other studies, however, show that the effects last at most six months.

Prof Howard states that although it isn’t better than CBT, it can be used in situations where it doesn’t work.

‘As doctors, that’s all we can hope for – offering something when all else fails.’