Balancing the risks

beyondblue believes the ‘risk and protective factor model’ is the way to go with depression and anxiety management.

By Yasmin Noone

The national depression initiative, beyondblue, has created a new approach to mental health management in residential aged care.

The ‘risk and protective factor model’, which is usually applied to physical and sometimes social conditions, is now being used to manage depression and anxiety.

The pilot program, designed by beyondblue, aims to train aged care staff to offset an older person’s risk of experiencing depression or anxiety with protective factors, which have been proven to either ease heightened emotions, protect the resident’s condition from spiralling out of control or prevent a condition from happening altogether.

Aged care and nursing project manager for beyondblue, Marie-Anne Schull, explained that the pilot reaped successful results because it allowed facility staff to accept what they can not control and change the factors they can.

For example, she said, depression/anxiety risk triggers are usually factors which can not be helped, like bereavement, chronic disease or the move into a facility.

“Older people are nine times more likely to experience bereavement and loss compared to any other age group,” Ms Schull said. 

“Moving into residential aged care is a risk factor because older people who live in a facility experience higher rates of depression than those in the community.

“There are also strong links between having a chronic illness or dementia, and depression. And, if you are a carer, you are likely to have poor mental health.

“…So if you can’t do much about the risks factors, we have to ask, ‘What can we do about the protective factors to balance the risk?’”

Possible protective factors include the social environment in which a person lives, their physical health or disability aides.

Staff can also address a person’s emotional needs by looking at their cultural background, encouraging reminiscence and communicating with the resident as they care for them.

 By boosting some of these elements, Ms Schull said, you not only take a “real person-centred approach to care” but also maximise the resident’s function, and their mental health and wellbeing.

“If we understand what the risks are, then we can look at the other side of the scale and look at what the protective factors are.

“I would say within residential aged care facilities, they don’t have that model in mind when it comes to mental health. However most are familiar with it for physical disorders.”

As part of the pilot program, beyondblue has developed a three-hour workshop to train residential care staff to use the risk protective factor model in relation to depression and anxiety management.

The organisation is yet to decide how it will roll out the pilot. However, Ms Schull will present workshop snippets at the upcoming Positive Mental Health for Older People Seminar on Monday 29 August happening at Luna Park Sydney, from 9am-5pm.

The one-day seminar will feature Ms Schull’s talk, as well as those from guest speakers Professor Henry Brodaty (Dementia Collaborative Research Centre at the University of NSW) and Dr Kate Jackson (Older People’s Mental Health Policy Unit, Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Office, NSW Health).

It will also include the announcement of the 2011 Positive Living in Aged Care Award (PLAC) winners.

The PLAC Awards project aims to recognise NSW-based residential aged care providers which implement strategies to promote a positive approach to the prevention and management of mental health conditions.

Each of the finalists will present their submitted mental health strategies at the seminar and provide attendees with an opportunity to share successful ideas and learn from the experiences of other residential aged care facility staff.

For more information about the seminar or awards, contact Ms Pillars on (02) 8754 0400 or email

Tags: 2011-positive-living-in-aged-care-awards, anxiety, beyondblue, for, health, marie-anne-schull, national-depression-inititative, older, people, positive-mental, professor-henry-brodaty, risk-and-protective-factor-model, seminar,

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