Did you know that:
- almost three-quarters of older people report a change in their mental health as they age
- older people have higher rates of suicide — in fact, men over 85 have the highest suicide rate of any Australian population group
- more than half of aged care residents have mild, moderate or major depression symptoms?
Why can mental health decline as we age? Older people can be exposed to risk factors that are unique to their stage of life, including declining physical health; loss of status and independence; financial insecurity; and social isolation and loneliness, including the loss of partners and friends.
Barriers to access
But despite the increased risks and higher prevalence of mental health problems, older people still have the lowest rate of contact with mental health services of any age group in Australia. More needs to be done to make sure that older people can access age-appropriate mental health services if and when they are needed.
Our recent submission to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System identified some of the barriers that stop older people from accessing mental health services, among them:
- poor mental health literacy and reluctance to seek help due to stigma
- separation of services based on age, rather than need
- digital exclusion, especially as more information and services move online
- problems with diagnosis and referral, where mental illness symptoms are dismissed by healthcare professionals as a normal part of ageing, or confused with symptoms of dementia
- lack of integration and coordination between services.
Investing in prevention
Our submission highlighted the need for more investment in preventative initiatives – like Men’s Sheds, discussion groups and COTA Victoria’s Living Longer Living Stronger. Programs like these support people to maintain good mental health as they age by addressing social isolation and loneliness and helping people to stay physically active. The submission included 18 recommendations for actions to better support the mental health needs of older Victorians.
We’ll be consulting further with older people following the release of the Royal Commission’s interim report, expected in October. To stay informed about our work in this area, contact COTA Victoria’s Policy Officer Lauren Henley on 9655 2140, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org