The call is in response to a new survey that shows the mental health of older Australians was hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, with one in seven people aged over 75 saying their mental health worsened during the period.
The research report, Mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 Pandemic: The lived experience of Australians aged 75 and over,
surveyed more than 1,000 Australians aged 75-plus about the impact the pandemic had on their mental health.
The report revealed that 14 percent of respondents stated their mental health worsened during the pandemic period and 15 percent said their mental health fluctuated regularly.
Loneliness and distress arising from social isolation and separation from friends and family were identified as the key impacts.
Even those who considered themselves unaffected by the pandemic described themselves as living with worry and stress and experiencing sadness, loss, lack of sleep and appetite, or distress.
Twenty percent of those who reported their mental health suffered said they had no one to talk to during periods of lockdowns and eight percent of those who reported their mental health suffered said they couldn’t get the help they needed.
The findings coincide with the latest progress report on the National Mental and Suicide Prevention Plan 2017-2022, which found that current indicators did not demonstrate improved mental health outcomes for older people.
COTA Australia CEO, Patricia Sparrow, said the report’s findings highlight the need to fund and measure older persons’ mental health and wellbeing supports.
The mental health needs of older Australians are so often forgotten about, she said.
“Throughout the pandemic, we heard a lot about the mental health needs of other age groups, but too often we seem to forget that older Australians need our support too.”
“This research shows that older Australians were doing it incredibly tough throughout the pandemic and without adequate data and targeted strategies to help them, there’s no way of knowing if that’s getting any better or worse.”
“We know how crucial and effective proactive, early intervention strategies can be when we’re looking at mental health, but there are very few put in place to support older Australians and that needs to change.”
Sparrow said it was imperative that the strategies senior Australians had asked for, namely support for strong social connections, the right information, access to social support and services, and age-informed mental health expertise, were put in place and funded as part of the 6th National Mental Health Plan.
“All Australians, no matter what their age, should have the right to an adequate standard of healthcare, and this includes mental health care and services,” she said.
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