Ageing and Mental Health

Mental Health and Growing Older – A spotlight on an ageing population

According to the World Health Organisation the population is ageing rapidly. Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double, from 12 per cent to 22 per cent. Approximately 15 per cent of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental disorder.

Mental health and emotional well-being are as important in older age as at any other time of life and yet there is limited research concerning the long-term impact of living with a mental health condition. There is an increasing number of older adults living with a diversity of mental health and coexisting conditions. This will create multiple challenges for housing, community support programs and public mental and physical health services. There is growing recognition that the increasing number of older people with mental health and coexisting conditions have poor access to the support and care they need across the service system spectrum.

Poor mental health is not a normal part of ageing. However, older people can be more vulnerable to mental health conditions. Some people develop mental health conditions as they age,  while others grow older with the ongoing experience of a mental health condition that developed earlier in their lives(1). Many people experience stigma and discrimination that is age related. For people who struggle with mental health difficulties across the lifespan, negative societal attitudes can exacerbate feelings of exclusion, poor self-esteem, helplessness and fear.

Isolation and depression should not be associated with ageing or normalised as a natural part of the ageing process, but unfortunately in our society today they too often are. Equally, they are too often managed and mismanaged with medical intervention alone rather than investigating the potential for psychosocial approaches and holistic care, separately or complemented by appropriate pharmaceutical options. The poor physical and psychological outcomes of managing mental illness with a diversity of psychotropic and other psychiatric medications is often considered best practice despite the health, emotional and social consequences that often manifest as a result.

(1)  The National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) 2012 —  ‘Supporting older people who are experiencing mental distress or living with a mental illness’ – Benevolent Society: Research to Practice Briefing 7.

Learning from each other

Both the mental health and aged care sectors face challenges in addressing the complex needs associated with mental illness and ageing.

In November 2012 the Mental Health Coordinating Council (MHCC) together with the Aged and Community Services Association of NSW and ACT (ACS) held the Mental Health of  Older People: Connecting Sectors Forum which part of the developing relationship between MHCC and the ACS.

Read the forum report

Sane Australia have also published a useful resource:

Growing older. staying well: Mental health care for older Australians