When mental illness hits older people

WHEN it comes to dealing with mental illness and depression, experts say it all starts with a simple hello.

If your friend broke a leg or had an operation, you probably wouldn't think twice about asking how they were.

Anyone can experience a mental health problem, so being able to talk about it is important, according to SANE Australia, the national charity that helps all those affected by mental illness with support, training, and education.

SANE Australia aged care project officer Sabrina Nemorin said symptoms of mental illness could show themselves differently in older people.

"When it comes to depression and anxiety, older Australians might find the words used to describe the feelings (associated with mental illness) aren't there," she said.

"Older Australians are more inclined to experience symptoms in a more physical way, such as unexplained aches and pains."

General signs to look out for included drastic changes in behaviour, sleep disruption, change of eating habits and withdrawing from life.

Ms Nemorin said issues including social isolation, financial instability and physical health were compounding factors in the older population.

She said mental illnesses could be treated with a combination of medication, psychological therapies and looking after yourself.

"Social support can also have protective benefits around mental health," she said.

"It feels good to be around people we love."

There is a distinction between the needs of people who may develop a mental health issue in the later years and those who have been living with a severe and persistent mental illness for a lifetime.

SANE Australia has created an aid for people living with mental illness, which it aims to release at the end of this month.

What to look out for

Drastic change in behaviour


Uncharacteristic neglect

Sleep disruption


Depressed moods

Bizarre behaviour

Topics:  mental illness

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