Mental Health and Older People

30 April 2021

Good mental health is important for all Australians. It is identified as a key factor associated with healthy ageing. An holistic approach should incorporate psychological, biological and/or social and cultural factors.  It should also address the following key factors:

  • Illness
  • frailty and loss of independence
  • grief and loss
  • financial stress
  • changing living arrangements and/or increasing social isolation.

Untreated mental health issues in older people may lead to a deterioration in overall health, increased hospital admissions and an earlier transition to residential aged care facilities.

Models of Care

Aged care providers need robust, sustainable case management structures and processes to implement a model of care that values the mental health and wellbeing of older people and their families/ carers. Appropriate mental health services need to be provided for ageing people from diverse backgrounds including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, culturally and linguistically diverse people and those from LGBTIQ+ communities.

Impacts of Ambiguous Loss

The losses experienced by people as they age, such as loss of connections, loss of independence, loss of familiar routines in daily living and loss of friends and families, may exacerbate existing mental health issues or bring on mental illness. Ambiguous loss as associated both with ageing and mental ill health is often unrecognised by clinicians who fail to identify grief and regard it as pathological. This can inhibit the very natural and healing expression of grief.

Other Impacts

The mental health of older people can also be impacted by:

  • Insufficient family and or community support which can lead to loneliness and isolation This situation has been exacerbated in recent times by the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Being the recipient of production line service provided by overburdened task-oriented staff in aged care facilities

The NMHCCF has made a submission to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality recommending that older people need access to a skilled, multidisciplinary, diverse workforce with knowledge and experience in older people’s mental health.  Trained peer workers should be an integral part of the staffing model for aged care services.  Volunteers also need to be valued and recognised for the contribution they make to this sector. 

Download the full advoacy brief

Advocacy Brief - Mental Health and Older People