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New program targets mental health needs of residents


A new initiative will deliver psychological services to aged care residents and provide training opportunities for staff working in residential care facilities.

Central and Eastern Sydney Primary Health Network (CESPHN) has commissioned three existing psychological support organisations to deliver individual and group treatment sessions to residents at 17 aged care facilities in the region.

Under the initiative, the three provider organisations will engage mental health clinicians experienced in working with older people to deliver the sessions and work with facility staff to increase awareness of mental health issues and the services available to residents.

CESPHN CEO Michael Moore said a lot of emphasis was placed on the physical health of seniors, but the mental health of older people could often be forgotten.

“These psychological support services will make a real difference to the older community in our region,” Mr Moore said.

The services, which are funded under the federal government’s PHN program, target residents diagnosed with mild to moderate mental illness, those experiencing severe mental illness who are not being supported by another mental health service, and residents at risk of developing a mental illness.

Identified need

The initiative is in response to an identified and gaps in available services in the region.

A needs assessment identified that although many older people experience good mental health, they are at greater risk of anxiety and depression, especially when there is coexisting physical illness including dementia, disability, or difficult life experiences, CESPHN said.

More than half of permanent aged care residents in Australia have symptoms of depression, as do 45 per cent of those who were admitted to residential aged care for the first time, according to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

CESPHN said consultation also identified that older people in aged care facilities:

  • lack access to psychologists
  • may be socially isolated
  • are disadvantaged because there is a lack of financial incentive to provide visits to facilities
  • are further disadvantaged because of issues with the provision of training for aged care facility staff.

More services planned

The service is CESPHN’s first designed to meet the mental health needs of aged care residents and will be followed by others over the next three years.

Future services will be informed by residents, families and carers, GPs, aged care staff and older mental health and aged care assessment teams to determine the most effective care models to address local needs, Mr Moore said.

“The organisation’s goals are to see mood improvements, reductions in anxiety and stress, increased ability to cope with life changes and an increase in social connection and participation in social activities,” Mr Moore said.

As part of the launch of the program, CESPHN is also providing upskilling opportunities for mental health clinicians around geriatric psychology, assessment and treatment. It has also funded mental health First Aid training opportunities for residential aged care staff.

The three providers delivering the treatments to aged care residents in the region are Victorian Primary Mental Health Alliance, Lilly Pilly Counselling and Sydney MindCare.

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5 Responses to New program targets mental health needs of residents

  1. Jennifer Pelizar March 21, 2019 at 3:24 pm #

    I am excited to see this finally happening in my health area. I am passionate about seeing residents of aged care facilities and isolated older people recieve mental health care.
    I have been volunteering in an aged care facility since completing my clinical hours for my counselling degree last year. I found that running a small group, teaching the skills of mindfulness for only 8 weeks was beneficial. All participants improved on their general wellbeing scores.

  2. Felicity Chapman March 21, 2019 at 5:51 pm #

    It’s been a while ago since the Aged Care Access Initiative was rolled out – and since disappeared into to thin air. Great to see funding now specifically targeting mental health and residents of aged care homes across Australia. It’s been a long wait and a lot of advocacy!!

    I just hope providers consider the breadth of experience or intervention type in the counselling space: not just coaches at one end nor just clinical psychologists at the other. There’s a lot of reasonably priced multi-disciplinary talent in between! (Jennifer Pelizar, who has been my supervisee and has left a comment here, for one!)

    Felicity Chapman, mental health social worker and author

  3. Caroline March 22, 2019 at 9:21 pm #

    I read this article 2 days ago and had to stop myself from posting a comment. I am glad that Felicity raised a valuable point of considering the breadth of experience and interventions. I checked the websites of the 3 providers of PSS and was very disappointed… psychologists a plenty.

    As a counsellor with a focus on older people, I do believe there’s a space for non-clinical professionals. We can support people to deal with the every day concerns of living in an independent living unit, residential care facility or wherever ‘home’ is. Like Jennifer, I have developed a 9-week program to get older adults to reflect and re-connect with the self. This week, the group was introduced to laughter therapy as a way to challenge the self. It is wonderful to see a group of people grow each week and explore their hopes for getting older, much older. Paid? Absolutely not. I need registration hours for PACFA so I have to volunteer as no one wants to pay nor recognise the validity of counselling in a range of aged care spaces.

    So YES fund PSS providers but let’s look at the diversity of practitioners who are building skills and experiences in this space. Some of us are actually passionate about counselling for older adults.

    Caroline: counselling for change

  4. Gail Green May 2, 2019 at 12:09 am #

    Yes, I am another Accredited Mental Health Social Worker who works with older people and I have struggled to find a way into Residential care facilities or even over 60’s communities. There is an urgent need I believe to have “other eyes” on the activities that are taking place in Residential Care and of other voices who can advocate for residents who feel disempowered, unwell, depressed or over medicated.
    I am paid by the DVA for one client but it took several months to find out the process, send off the forms and get payment approval then payment back….Although of course I understand the need to evidence and documentation, .small businesses struggle with the time gap in payments. I would also love to be running my 8 week program in residential care and lifestyle villages.The program is designed to help people come to terms with their past both good and not so good.

  5. Petra van Vliet May 9, 2019 at 12:20 pm #

    It looks like I am not alone is stating that there are other professions that are passionate about offering a service in the aged care area. I am also a mental health social worker who worked for many years with older people in public mental health and in palliative care.
    I see a great need, not only for the residents to have a confidential space for counselling, but also for the families of these residents. In addition, a debriefing space for the pcas and nurses who face heavy work loads, redients dying and no system for them to work all this through. A social work perspective gives a unique systems’ approach which considers the resident within their environment and the significant others in their lives.
    Petra Mental Health Social Worker

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