Older Persons Mental Health

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS (14:41): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking a question of the Minister for Health and Wellbeing concerning mental health.

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS: Members of the council will be aware of my longstanding concern about suicide and mental health issues which can be associated with those who tragically choose suicide. Older South Australians, in particular older men, are a specific risk group. Will the minister update the council on support for mental health among older persons?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (14:42): Through you, Mr President, I thank the honourable member for his question and his ongoing interest in both mental health and suicide prevention. One example of support that is becoming available is the Older Person Mental Health First Aid program, which was launched in Adelaide this morning as a result of a partnership between the SA Mental Health Commission and Mental Health First Aid Australia.

OPMHFA is a specialist mental health first aid training course for families and carers living and working with older people aged 65 years and older. The course trains people to recognise and respond to mental health problems in older people before they reach crisis. It covers the full gamut of mental health, from the early stages, including signs and symptoms of common mental health problems in older people, through to first aid in a crisis, such as panic attacks or suicide or other unsafe behaviours.

In South Australia, we are all too well aware of the necessity to care for our vulnerable older residents, particularly after the scandal of Oakden. In this regard I am proud to have given notice earlier of legislation that will be introduced to safeguard older South Australians. The Marshall Liberal government is committed to bringing this important legislation to parliament within 100 days of the election, and tomorrow I will fulfil that commitment.

beyondblue statistics show that an estimated 10 to 15 per cent of older people are believed to experience depression, and 10 per cent will experience anxiety, with rates of depression for people living in residential aged care climbing to a concerning 35 per cent. Changes in physical health, loss of independence, grief and loss, and brain changes can contribute to depression among older Australians, who may also be hesitant to seek help early in case they appear weak or may be worried that they will be seen as a burden to their families and loved ones.

Mental health problems in older people can be underdiagnosed and undertreated in the later stages of life. Unfortunately, people caring for older people may know about physical health problems but may not understand mental health issues. As is the case for people of all ages in all domains of health, it is much better to get help early, yet too often symptoms can be wrongly attributed to simply getting older.

Through OPMHFA, families, friends, carers and workers will be taught to recognise the clusters of symptoms of different illnesses and mental health issues to offer compassionate responses and provide initial help to guide people towards appropriate treatments and support. After today's inaugural two-day training course, two further showcases will be held: one in Port Lincoln on 12-13 July, and the other in Mount Gambier on 25-26 July. More courses will be rolled out across South Australia.

I commend the South Australian Mental Health Commission and Mental Health First Aid Australia for initiating and promoting these courses, and I encourage South Australians to participate. Older South Australians and their families and loved ones can feel confident that both the government and the commission are actively implementing measures to help them feel safe and secure.


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