General News Research — 04 November 2013
Older Australians with mental illness: marginalised and isolated says new research

Inadequate care, poor health, isolation and unstable housing are major concerns for many older people with mental illness according to new research by SANE Australia.

A study by the national mental health charity has found that more support, services and education are needed to appropriately care for our ageing population. bigstockphoto_Severe_Depression_3067531

‘We found from first-hand accounts that there are relatively few support and rehabilitation services aimed at older adults living with mental illness. Caring is often left to generalist aged care staff, who have little, if any, understanding of mental health issues,’ says SANE CEO Jack Heath.

Growing Older, Staying Well – Mental health care for older Australians draws together research, interviews and surveys SANE Australia conducted earlier this year with over 130 people living with mental illness, carers and service providers.

‘Many older Australians have managed their mental illness over a number of years and they’re often pretty resilient; but as they get older, additional challenges impact on their lives,’ Heath explains.

‘As an example, a lack of employment in earlier life can mean this group is less likely to have secure housing or financial resources. The death of an aged carer can lead to an urgent need for support and the long-term effects of medication on physical health can also affect people’s independence, stopping them from being able to do the activities they enjoy.

‘These changes may contribute to a deterioration in mental health, but we must remember that mental ill health is not a normal part of ageing.

‘It’s a dangerous misconception that people will automatically become depressed as they grow older. This assumption can prevent health and care workers from identifying older people who aren’t coping well and are in need of additional support,’ explains the SANE CEO.

‘Older people with mental illness can also face a double stigma – being both older AND having a mental illness,’ Heath adds.

As one older Australian told us: ‘I am almost of an age now where I could join a seniors club, and yet my generation – who are not living with mental illness – are more stigmatising than most other people because of all the old conceptions of mental illness.’

‘By listening to the experiences of older people living with mental illness, we found that stable and safe housing, quality health care and opportunities to participate and keep engaged with life, are key to their needs,’ Heath concludes.

SANE Australia released this report on 4 November, 2o13.

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