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Funding boost for aged care mental health support

An intervention that aims to improve the mental health of people living in aged care through the involvement of residents, family members, staff and student counsellors is among seven mental health projects targeting older people to share in $5 million funding.

The seven successful projects, which were announced by the Federal Government last week, are all focused on reducing depression, anxiety and suicide in seniors through evidence-based approaches and jointly funded by mental health charity beyondblue and the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Swinburne University of Technology’s Elders AT Ease (ELATE) program picked up $985,000 over four to test a scalable mental health service in a trial involving 500 residents from over 40 aged care facilities in Victoria.

Associate Professor Sunil Bhar

Chief investigator Associate Professor Sunil Bhar said the program aimed to reduce depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among aged care residents through a whole of system care intervention.

“Instead of only providing counselling to residents, we are also including family carers and residential staff in the program of care we are providing to residents,” Professor Bhar told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Residents in the intervention group will receive 16 face-to-face sessions over six months with a counsellor who is a postgraduate student in a relevant healthcare field such as psychology, social work or counselling.

ELATE involves aged care staff and family carers through face-to-face sessions and online modules on beyondblue’s website.

“We have one-on-one sessions with the residents using cognitive behaviour therapy, reminiscence activities and behavioural activation activities.

“We also provide staff with training on how to recognise signs and symptoms of anxiety as well as how to manage those observations and furthermore we provide training to family carers so they can be involved in the treatment program,” Professor Bhar said.

He said ELATE utilises postgraduate healthcare students as counsellors rather than qualified registered health professionals in a bid to make the service scalable and available to all residential facilities in Australia.

“If this model works then other universities and higher education providers can start to implement this program in the residential facilities around them,” Professor Bhar said.

“From an economic point of view the program is scalable because it will not cost as much as it would to use registered professionals.”

In addition to delivering a mental health service in an economical way to residents, this model would also help to train the next generation of healthcare professionals, he said.

University of Western Australia received a grant of $864,000 for a trial that aims to decrease the prevalence of depression and the frequency of its symptoms in aged care residents.

And the National Ageing Research Institute received $652,000 to develop a project on the impact of befriending on depression, anxiety, social support and loneliness in aged care residents.

Macquarie University, the University of Newcastle and Western Sydney University are among other institutions to receive funding for mental health research projects that target older Australians.

beyondblue and the NHMRC will each provide about $2.5 million to fund the projects.

beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman said: “beyondblue is delighted to partner with the NHMRC to underwrite these important and sorely needed research projects.”

“But we’re not just co-funding this research, we will share the findings and use them to drive forward our work and advocacy.”

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