Mental health and well-being are as important in older age as at any other time of life. Yet, the needs of older people are often overlooked. To address this gap, MARC hosted a mental health masterclass on 22.11.2019. The event was sold out within a few days and about 60 people from diverse backgrounds attended, including medical and nursing staff, service providers, researchers and community members.
Debra O’Connor and Bianca Brijnath welcomed our four guest speakers. CEO of the Health Issues Centre, Danny Vadasz, discussed the difference between loneliness, aloneness and isolation. He highlighted the importance of social listening, the art of finding out about something you weren’t even looking for by letting consumers share their unique narratives. Professor Maree Hackett from the George Institute for Global Health then took the stage to discuss challenges in identifying and responding to negative emotions in later life. She showed how depression is often missed in older adults as psychological symptoms receive less attention than physical ones. She emphasised that age per se is not a risk factor for depression but physical disabilities and lack of support can be. Maree encouraged the audience to simply ask older people how they feel and if they need help rather than making assumptions about their mental health.
The positive effect of behavioural activation on older people’s well-being was the topic addressed by Associate Professor Christina Bryant. She presented findings from a recent NARI study, outlining how the involvement of volunteers in planning meaningful activities with aged care residents can be a cost-effective way of reducing depression. Anne Muldowney from Carers Victoria then followed this advice by getting the audience active and moving. She asked people to take on the role of family carers, older people or observers to illustrate how challenging caregiving can be, while raising the question: ‘Who is caring for the carers?’ The audience then learnt about the severe mental health impact of caregiving on families, social relationships as well as financial and occupational difficulties. But Anne also pointed out that with the right support, caring does not need to be equated with suffering.
The day concluded with an engaging panel discussion, which reflected that more attention needs to be given to older people’s mental health, while also including the needs of their families and carers.