Why older people don’t ask for mental health support

Older Australians with chronic health conditions are more prone to mental health issues but least likely to look for help and need encouragement.

That’s the finding of Edith Cowan University (ECU) researcher and psychologist Claire Adams, who looked into the help-seeking intentions of older adults living with conditions such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease (including asthma) and Type 2 diabetes.

Ms Adams found that despite frequent contact with the health care system, many of these people underutilise mental health services.

Key findings

Older people with chronic disease who were reluctant to seek mental health support tended to:

  • Be sceptical about the benefits of mental health support.
  • Believe they lack support from family or friends to seek help.
  • Believe they are incapable of accessing services.

It can also be difficult for people to identify the symptoms of their mental health condition.

"People living with respiratory disease who have difficulty breathing might assume that if their breathing is getting worse, that’s because their chronic disease is getting worse, however it might actually be a symptom of anxiety," Ms Adams said.

Positive first steps

Ms Adams found that people who had used mental health services in the past would be more likely to use them again in the future.

She said that it was a good reflection on our mental health system and highlighted the value of a positive first experience.

"We need to help people living with chronic disease, manage their disease and also live relatively happy lives. One way of doing that is to encourage them to seek help if they need it."

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