Depression and anxiety in older adults are major public health challenges globally, yet older people are often overlooked in the mental health system. This needs to change.
In its submission to the Royal Commission into Mental Health, NARI puts forward three recommendations that it believes would lead to better mental health results for older people.
- Stop the tendency to see poor mental health as a ‘normal’ part of ageing.
- Improving health professionals’ knowledge and skills to diagnose and treat depression in older adults
- Reduce the stigma of mental illness in older adults by tackling the connections between ageism, racism, and sexism, as well as the determinants of poor mental health like loneliness and socio-economic disadvantage.
Other recommendations include:
- Improving depression screening for older adults, and integrate mental health into medical care
- Promote the use of psychotherapy to support older adults with depression
- Explore the relationship between depression and elder abuse.
- Improve mental health understanding in the community
- Challenge the media’s role in reinforcing pervasive ageism and mental health stigma that prevents timely, appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
Submission author Dr Meg Polacsek says it is crucial to see older adults as a specific focus area.
“The number of older Australians will almost double by 2055. Population ageing will see an increase in depression, anxiety, elder abuse and other mental illnesses by 2055. High rates of depression and anxiety are associated with increased physical illness, disability, suicidal ideation and self-neglect,” Dr Polacsek said.
The NARI submission highlights the Institute’s contribution to tackling stigma and discrimination. Its research program includes befriending, behavioural activation and peer support initiatives to prevent mental illness and to promote recovery in those already unwell.
“NARI recently conducted a study using behavioural activation to reduce depression in residential aged care. Residents were partnered with specially trained volunteers to increase participation in meaningful activities. Preliminary findings indicate the success of the program for residents and volunteers, and further research is needed to strengthen the evidence base,” Dr Polacsek said.