New research will explore mental health among older Australians

Article published 8 March 2024

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A new project will add to a growing body of research that improves our understanding of mental health in vulnerable communities.

A new research project funded by the Australian Research Council aims to challenge some of the taboos surrounding mental health in older Australians. The project, which is expected to be completed early next year, has already found that many older Australians are less open to discussing mental health than younger generations.

Mental health among older people

Stigmas around ‘being a burden’ or ‘not airing dirty washing’ can prevent older people from opening up about mental health. In addition, mental health issues affecting older Australians can often be ignored or overlooked by family, friends or care providers, who may incorrectly see these problems as normal side-effects of getting older.

This is particularly concerning, as recent research has found that 1 in 5 older Australians feel loneliness or isolation, which can both contribute to poor mental health and make it harder for these issues to be properly identified.

Regional areas face added challenges

Mental health issues can also be exacerbated for people living in regional and rural areas. For someone living in a rural or regional community, accessing mental health support services may mean travelling longer distances or experiencing longer wait times. This can add to a sense of isolation and create another barrier for someone deciding whether or not to reach out.

Even extreme weather events and natural disasters can play a part. In the wake of fires, floods, droughts and severe storms that have hit regional and rural parts of the country over the past few years, researchers have begun investigating the impact that natural disasters have on mental health and wellbeing.

Because these communities are often smaller and closely knit, the impact of these events can be felt throughout the entire community, especially among emergency service workers.

What can be done

Some groups are working to challenge some of the stigmas and taboos that prevent people from opening up about mental health. Everyone can play a part in this by speaking more openly about mental health and checking in with each other.

Some progress has already been made, with older people increasingly accessing mental health support services from 2009-2019.

Hopefully, this latest project will improve our understanding of mental health among older Australians and help us to shed some of the preconceived notions that make mental health a taboo topic.

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