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  • Writer's pictureGold Care Home Services

Older People and Mental Health - It Starts With A Conversation

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

Growing old can be a joy for some as the transition into retirement comes as a relief after many decades of working. But for others the change of retirement has the opposite effect. It can bring anxiety, depression and other mental health struggles associated with major life changes. The good news is that there is support out there for older people’s mental health matters. With the aftermath of COVID 19, the topic of mental health has been in the spotlight, which has seen the Australian Government invest $11.6 Billion dollars into the mental health industry during 2020-21 compared to $9.3 Billion in 2016-17. With a highlight topic being mental health, there are more and more resources being released through verified and credible sources that can help support someone’s mental health journey. Here are our thoughts around mental health, the elderly and where we can find support.

Prevention before intervention - looking after your mental health practically

Mental and physical health have been proved to be closely connected. Studies have shown that taking care of your physical health improves mental wellbeing and looking after your mental health improves your physical well being.

As people age, they may notice a decline in their physical health, mobility and body movement but that doesn’t mean they are doomed with declining mental health, it just means it's time to find a capacity that works for their current ability.

There are a few things that you can do to work with any capacity or movement that can help improve mental health:

Encourage eating well

From portion size, to the amount of times a day you eat and what you eat can all have an impact on your mental health. Aim to eat a minimum of 3 - 5 well balanced meals a day focusing on foods that can boost mood like bananas, oats, berries, salmon, beans and lentils and nuts and seeds.

Encourage healthy sleeping habits

The amount of hours you sleep and the quality of sleep can drastically change your mood. Older adults are still encouraged to get between 7-9 hours of sleep a day.

Encourage good sleep hygiene - follow a regular sleep schedule, limit naps during the day, create a bedtime routine, have minimum screen time an hour before bed time, reduce liquid intake a few hours before bed to avoid night waking for the bathroom.

Encourage movement and exercise.

Even if you mobility is limited it’s important to move your body whether it be chair yoga, a small walk or stretching. This can release endorphins and boost mood! Encourage movement and exercise by researching light movement activities for older people.

Encourage social and emotional connections.

People over the age of 75 are more likely to be lonely than any other age group. There are many ways to encourage social and emotional connections like organising weekly phone calls or catch ups with friends or family, joining a group or club of people with a common interest, community events or even classes to learn a new skill. Social activities can also release endorphins to boost mood and motivation.

What are the signs that an elderly person needs support with their mental health?

Many older people struggle to ask for help as they don’t want to interfere with their loved ones' lives. They may be too embarrassed to ask for help or unsure of what help is available. Sometimes older people can struggle and try to cope on their own which results in them pretending that they are doing well to convince loved ones they are okay.

Here are some things to look out for in older adults who may be struggling with mental health issues:

  • They may show less interest in their hygiene and personal care. They may start showing less often, not worrying about their clothes or appearance, they may even wear the same clothes multiple days in a row.

  • They may show less interest in eating full meals and prefer snack foods or light meals like toast, biscuits and tea, chips or chocolate.

  • Show little to no interest in favourite social activities, they may even withdraw completely from social contact.

If you start to notice these changes in your loved one, start a conversation around how they are doing and be honest about noticing some changes. Some of the time you may not get an open response which may need more open ended questions to get your loved one talking. It's important to never push them more than they are willing to talk. Be open, receptive and nonjudgmental towards their feelings and situation. Phrases like “it’s okay someone else has it worse” or “you just need to be positive” can be more hurtful and devalue how a person is feeling and make their feelings feel insignificant. It’s best to keep your personal opinions out of the conversation and offer neutral advice like and support where you can. It’s important not to tell them what to do but instead, offer suggestions and leave the choice up to them.

Starting the actual conversation around mental health can be challenging.

Beyond Blue Australia has some great resources around conversation about mental health with older people. Below we have 2 facts sheets that will help get the conversation started. The first fact sheet is about starting the conversation with an older person and the second facts sheet is for older people wanting to talk about mental health and how to approach the subject with a loved one or carer.

You can find the facts sheets here:

What support is available to older people struggling with mental help?

A lot of older people neglect support for their mental health issues as they don't want to bother their family or be a burden on anyone. It’s important to remind them that they are not a burden and remind them that you are there to help and support them. A way you can support them is by educating yourself on what resources are available to help your older loved one with their mental health.

If your loved one doesn’t respond well to talking to mental health professionals, a gentle starting place to start is encouraging them to take a self assessment of the DASS (Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scale) in private. This is often the first step a GP will take before completing a mental health treatment plan. After taking the DASS test you can then take the test results to the GP to discuss the results and plan for treatment. Often after a GP discusses your mental health condition, they will often refer you to a specialist service like a counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist, community support groups, mental health support foundations and in crisis the Emergency Department at the hospital.

Your GP will be the person to guide you on your individual circumstance to gain the best support for you and your situation

We have created a list of resources available in NSW and Australia to help support you are your loved one through the mental health journey:




Phone Number

​DASS - Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scale printable test

​The scale frequently used to start conversation around the severity of Depression, Anxiety or Stress. This is often used by GP’s as a first step to a mental health treatment plan

​Mental Health Treatment Plan

​This is a resource to explain what a mental health treatment plan is and what it is used for

​Older People’s Mental Health Services (OPMH) - NSW Government

​OPMH services provide public specialist mental health clinical care generally to people aged 65 years and over

​1800 011 511

​Beyond Blue

​Australia’s most well-known mental health organisation focused on proving support for people affected by anxiety, depression and suicide

​1300 224 636


​National charity providing 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services

​13 11 14

​My Aged Care - Australian Government

​Aged Care Services provided by the government and information resources

​1800 200 422

​Head to Health - Australian Government

​For advice, assessment and referral to local mental health services

​1800 595 212

​Open Arms - Australian Government

​Mental health support for Veterans, ADF personnel and their families

​1800 011 046

​SANE Australia

​Support for people living with a mental illness

​1800 187 263

​Suicide Call Back Service - Australian Government

​24/7 suicide prevention support helpline

​1300 659 467

​Local Emergency Department Finder

Resource to locate closest Emergency Department for Crisis and Mental Health Emergencies


SOURCE: Information about foods that boost mood Reference Information about sleep facts Reference

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