Seniors Rights Victoria welcomes the opportunity to make a submission on Victoria’s next 10 year mental health strategy.
Seniors Rights Victoria is the key statewide service addressing and responding to older people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, abuse – known as ‘elder abuse’. Elder abuse includes physical, sexual, emotional or psychological, financial or social abuse and neglect.
In Seniors Rights Victoria’s experience, the abuser is a family member in 92.3% of the cases and, in two thirds of these, it is the older person’s adult son or daughter. Elder abuse is a real and devastating family violence issue and, in the words of the World Health Organisation (WHO), a serious social and public health problem.
Elder abuse interacts with mental health and wellbeing in a number of ways. Primarily, abuse has devastating psychological effects on an older person, including depression and anxiety. These effects can in turn contribute to a decline in an older person’s decision-making capacity. Elder abuse might also decrease an older person’s life expectancy compared to their non-abused peers.
Equally important is the mental ill health of elder abuse perpetrators – 13.2% of SRV’s clients identify their perpetrator as having mental health issues. Where an older person lives with the perpetrator of abuse – including in their capacity as a carer – the consequences can be particularly serious leading to situations where an older person fears for their personal safety or is forced from their own home.
Pre-existing mental ill health might make an older person more vulnerable to elder abuse and this merits further research so that the risk can be better understood and moderated.
An older person who is depressed, stressed and anxious (due to abuse or otherwise) and showing signs of cognitive decline can be assumed, because of their age, to have dementia and be medically misdiagnosed. This might then mean that an older person unfairly loses autonomy and control of their life and finances to an attorney, guardian or administrator.
Finally, an older person’s living arrangements are a significant elder abuse risk factor – both when they live with the perpetrator and when they live alone.
The following recommendations aim to address the ways in which elder abuse interacts with mental health and wellbeing and to ensure that Victoria’s next 10 year mental health strategy responds effectively to the needs of victims and perpetrators of elder abuse alike.
Summary of recommendations
- The Victorian Government ensures the provision of tailored elder abuse counselling services and evaluates such counselling services for effectiveness.
- The Victorian Government leads and collaborates with services such as SRV to establish elder abuse community support groups and evaluates their effectiveness.
- The Victorian Government prioritises the development of service pathways via which family members can access mental health treatment for someone close to them, taking into account the complexities associated with elder abuse, prior to a crisis occurring.
- Older adults who become or remain carers of their grown up children with mental health issues are given adequate support by mental health services such that abuse is prevented or early intervention occurs.
- The Victorian Government researches the extent to which an older person’s mental ill health is a risk factor for abuse.
- The Victorian Government takes steps to improve public and professional understanding and diagnosis of treatable mental illness as opposed to dementia in an older person.
- The availability of safe, supported and linked-in housing options is an important policy consideration for safeguarding the mental health and wellbeing of older generations