Older Aussies with Mental Illness Experience Lack of Care - Study
4 November 2013 at 12:55 pm
A lack of support and rehabilitation services is one of the major concerns for older people living with mental illness, new research by an Australian health charity has found.
SANE Australia’s study, Growing Older, Staying Well – Mental health care for older Australians, also lists inadequate care, poor health, isolation and unstable housing as major concerns for many older people with mental illness.
“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,” SANE CEO Jack Heath said.
The study was a culmination of research, interviews and surveys SANE Australia conducted earlier this year with more than 130 people living with mental illness, carers and service providers.
The diagnoses reported were most frequently depression (45 per cent) followed by Schizophrenia (28 per cent) and bipolar disorder (23 per cent).
“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 said.
“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.
“Older people with mental illness can also face a double stigma – being both older AND having a mental illness.”
As part of the research, one older Australian revealed: “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.”
The key recommendations of the report include:
Stronger lobbying and advocacy giving the needs of older people living with mental illness more prominence in aged care and mental health;
Address social isolation in older adults living with mental illness as a central tenet of any policy reform and advocacy work in this area;
Consult with older adults when seeking to understand the experience of living with mental illness;
Mandatory mental health training for staff working in the aged-care and community support sectors;
Provide clear and easily-accessible information for older adults, their families, friends and staff about mental illness in older age;
Encourage GPs and other primary health professionals to seek additional training and education in the treatment of coexisting physical and mental health problems.
“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 said.
The study was funded by the Ian Rollo Currie Estate Foundation. The Foundation recently announced it will support the next phase of SANE Australia’s Aged Care Project.