Mental illness shouldn’t be a rite-of-passage for older Australians says peak body for psychologists

Mental illness shouldn't be a rite-of-passage for older Australians says peak body for psychologists

Australia’s peak body for psychologists says depression and anxiety should not be a rite-of-passage for older Australians, and Medicare-subsidised psychology sessions should be made permanently available to aged-care residents.

Promisingly, in its response to the Aged Care Royal Commission’s recommendations on COVID-19, the Australian Government has announced $35.5 million to allow aged care residents access to psychology services under Medicare until 30 June 2022.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) says while this is a very welcome step in the right direction, older Australians deserved permanent access to these services.

“Many Australians would be shocked to learn about half of aged-care residents live with mental illness” says APS President, Tamara Cavenett.

“Depression and anxiety are not normal aspects of growing older and should not be considered a rite-of-passage.”

“Evidence shows psychological treatment for both anxiety and depression in the elderly is effective, but currently in aged-care facilities when mental illness is identified, the most likely treatment is pharmacological. Only a fraction of residents currently receive psychological support.”

Tamara Cavenett says COVID-19 has also compounded issues experienced by aged-care residents.

“We know aged-care residents already experience loneliness, and during the pandemic there’s evidence of increased generalised distress and worry, as well as hopelessness and helplessness amongst residents.”

“This announcement is a glimmer of hope for older Australians and their loved ones, but there’s a long way to go.”

This funding announcement addresses significant issues around equity of access. Older Australians living in the community could access psychological treatment under Medicare. However, Government-funded residents of aged-care facilities were excluded from Medicare-funded psychological treatment because they are meant to be provided with access to a psychologist by their facility.

In reality this access is extremely limited, with less than one per cent of aged-care residents receiving any kind of psychological treatment.

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