New South Wales and Queensland aged care provider Whiddon is calling for a new residential aged care model that provides residents with ongoing and easy access to mental health support.
The proposed model of care would see federally-funded counselling services integrated into aged care homes, easy access referral pathways and choices about other mental health services.
The model involves a collaborative approach between aged care and counselling service providers, education for residents about services and other mental health resources to promote wellbeing.
It would also include student placements and paid time for staff to access free mental health education to support the emotional needs of residents and self-care.
The proposed model is in response to a recent study highlighting the benefit of counselling services to residents with anxiety conducted by Whiddon, Southern NSW Local Health District Aged Care Evaluation Unit clinical psychologist Annaliese Blair and mental health service providers Uniting and Change Futures.
The evaluation on the impact of Primary Health Network-funded counselling services over 10 weeks involved 27 residents and 20 staff at six Whiddon aged care homes and measured psychological distress, anxiety and depression.
Whiddon head of strategy and innovation Karn Nelson said the study found that counselling services had a transformative effect on some residents.
“There was an immediate benefit in having the counsellors around,” Ms Nelson told Australian Ageing Agenda.
There was an improvement in depressive symptoms, anxiety, quality of life, or in psychological distress in 62 per cent of participants and no change in the remainder, according to the findings.
The study also found that the counsellors quickly became part of the aged care team, Ms Nelson said.
“They were fantastic. They came in, our staff completely embraced them and they started working well as a team. They were working well with staff, identifying who needed support, and then working as a team to provide better support for those residents who could really benefit from that,” Ms Nelson said.
The counselling services, which were implemented when COVID-19 hit last year, helped support the mental health of residents and staff, she said.
“Having the counsellors coming in, holding group counselling sessions and music therapy and assisting generally wherever they could helped the atmosphere…for both residents and staff. It helped resolve some of those high levels of anxiety caused by COVID,” she said.
Whiddon would like to see counselling services funded in aged care along with easy pathways to access services, Ms Nelson said.
The findings show that counselling services are important in aged care, she said.
“In the past, there’s been a bit of an attitude that that the services are possibly less effective on older people.
“This showed that is just not the case. You can provide counselling services, and it doesn’t matter how old that person is, they will get just as much benefit, perhaps more than had they been younger,” Ms Nelson said.