Mental Health Reforms Welcome But Fail To Address The Needs Of Older People

The release of wide ranging reforms in mental health by the federal government today provide a welcome shift to a more person-centered, streamlined and localised approach but unfortunately still fail to address to quite systemic neglect of the unique issues faced by older Australians, including depression and the high prevalence of suicide.

COTA Australia CE Ian Yates says that in principle these reforms should better serve the needs of mature age and older Australians, with the adoption of a more localised model of service delivery and the introduction of a centralised phone and internet referral service.

“However, the reality is that the mental health needs of older people are frequently not given priority, or are indeed ignored, often being incorrectly discounted of as just a normal part of getting old,” Mr Yates said.

“Older people miss out on getting the support they need with this kind of ageism alive and well within our community and the medical professions. It’s essentially another example of age discrimination.

“Depression, for example, is too often undiagnosed or treated as an inevitable part of ageing. Yet when older people receive appropriate support they can return to healthy and productive lives.

“Suicide in older men is of particular concern and attracts nowhere near the attention it should.

“According to ABS data, in 2013 men aged 85 and over had the highest rate of suicide of any age group in Australia.

“While we rightly focus on addressing the prevalence of suicide in young people, we should equally look at solutions to bring down the rates in the older population.”

Mr Yates said it was a concern that the reforms announced today make no acknowledgment of the need to specifically address the mental health issues facing older Australians.

He noted that part of the reforms will ensure that the NDIS allows for a “significant Tier 2 systems of community support” for people with a disability arising from a mental illness.

“Older people with a mental illness will be unable to access these supports because of the restriction of the NDIS to those under the age of 65 years. Equitable services must also be delivered within the aged care or health systems for those ineligible for the NDIS because of their age,” he said.

“The reforms today are a good start. We’d like them to be followed up by the development of a Mature and Older Australians Mental Health Strategy that can sit alongside those for children, youth and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders announced as part of today’s package,” he said.

Media contact: Ian Yates 0418 835 439, Olivia Greentree 0439 411 774.

COTA Australia is the peak policy development, advocacy and representation organisation for older Australians, representing COTAs in every State and Territory and through them over 500,000 older Australians.