A South Australian aged care provider has been awarded the Dr Margaret Tobin Award for Excellence in Mental Health at a ceremony to mark the beginning of Mental Health Week in Adelaide.

For more than a decade, Helping Hand has pioneered services for older people with mental health issues.

The not-for-profit group runs one-to-one programs and group workshops for 200 older people in partnership with the state government’s mental health services.

The general manager of Helping Hand’s metropolitan division, Darren Young, said mental health issues among older people are often overlooked.

“Their GP or even their family and carers may think that it’s just a part of getting old,” he said.

“But the grief and loss from something like a partner dying can have a big impact on people. That’s why we work with other agencies to pick up on these concerns and develop an integrated solution.”

Mr Young said Helping Hand provides tailored support aimed to help clients set goals, build resilience and remain independent.

“Too often, services are based on the program that is being offered, rather than spending time getting to know the person upfront and having the flexibility to respond to their individual needs,” he said.

“We tend to work with the clients to identify their goals and then we structure our services and support around them.

“We have the flexibility to use funds in the way that they need. It’s not like we say to someone, ‘Here, you’ve got six counselling sessions on this program’.

“Instead we can provide a one-off counselling session, and some support to clean their house and then perhaps we could go along with them to help them re-connect to a community group they used to be involved in.”

Mental health problems affect one in four adults and Mr Young said aged care providers need to pay more attention to supporting older people with mental illness.

“This is not mainstream for aged care,” he said. “Ten years ago when this was first being talked about, a number of people were asking if this was the core business of aged care.

“What we can say now is, ‘Yes this is part of aged care’, and we hope it raises the profile of the importance of mental health in aged care.”

The Dr Margaret Tobin Award was established in 2004 in recognition of the contribution of the late Dr Tobin to mental health reform in South Australia.

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