As we head into the festive season, I wonder how many of you, like me, are looking forward to having time with friends and family and a well-earned break from your everyday routine. As I think about Christmas, I am very aware that it is not a happy time for everyone. For some, Christmas exacerbates feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Many older people are socially isolated, some older people living in aged care have no visitors and some living in the community are also very isolated.
Here at NARI we are acutely aware that research into how we can reduce social isolation for older people is greatly needed. One of our new projects, funded through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is looking at how befriending could play a part in reducing depression associated with loneliness in aged care. We are currently calling for volunteers to take part in this important study and I invite you to share the information with anyone who may be interested.
Mental health is so important for older people – not only for mental wellbeing but also for physical and cognitive health - At NARI we are determined to find ways to improve the mental health of all older Australians.
One group that we are targeting is older men who are at greatest risk of suicide than other population groups. I recently was part of a study, led by my colleague Kylie King from the University of Melbourne, that aimed to understand why older men might want to commit suicide and whether this was to do with their ideas about masculinity.
We interviewed 43 men all aged over 80 and the main reasons that they thought men might consider suicide were: loss of ability to contribute including working, providing for the family or acting as carers for their wives or the onset of severe illness or disability. Both are linked to not wanting to be a burden on others.
As a result of these findings, we are now working on ways to enable older men to continue to contribute and to engage in activities that are meaningful to them in later life, even after admission to residential care.
While we work to ensure our research is translated into everyday solutions, we are also mindful that improving the mental health of our older people requires a whole-of-community support. Whether it is by donating to NARI, raising awareness of our research responding to our call for research participants, one thing is certain – we can all find ways to support someone going through a difficult time and in so doing, contribute to building a more resilient community.
What better time to reach out than Christmas and the New Year. I encourage all our supporters to be extra mindful of how people in our lives are managing and remind them that should never have to feel alone.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a safe and peaceful Christmas however you are spending it, and I look forward to working with you all in 2019.