Older lady looking pensively out the window next to some flowers.

Royal Commission submission highlights risk factors

Poor mental health may make a person more susceptible to elder abuse and elder abuse, in turn, adversely impacts an older person’s mental health.

These are two of the three key points made in Seniors Rights Victoria’s submission to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System in July.

The third point is the effect of caring for a family member living with mental illness on an older person’s mental health.

The commission, which will deliver its final report in October 2020, aims to provide the Victorian community with a clear and ambitious set of actions that will change the state’s mental health system and enable Victorians to experience their best mental health.

The SRV submission draws on case studies collected as part of SRV’s work and makes 13 recommendations.

The recommendations include:

  • continual awareness-raising that depression and anxiety are not a normal part of ageing, and they can be treated
  • ongoing support to SRV in its efforts to address and prevent elder abuse
  • Victorian Government funding of counselling services specifically for people who have experienced elder abuse
  • ensuring that mental health providers assess the risk of elder abuse when consumers are living with, or discharged to, ageing parents.

The submission draws on the experiences of Tricia, Mary and Helen. (The names have been changed and case details anonymised to protect each person’s privacy.) Tricia’s mental health deteriorated after she was forced out of her home by her daughter and son-in-law. Her situation improved only after she accessed mental health support through her health insurance. Mary’s mental health deteriorated as a result of caring for her daughter, who refused to seek treatment in the mental health system. The mental health of Helen, an 80-year-old woman, deteriorated as a result of caring for her 50-year-old daughter, Leanne. The SRV submission noted that one of the risk factors for elder abuse and poor mental health was the social isolation of older people. ‘Loneliness and social isolation … make people more vulnerable to developing depression and to experiencing elder abuse,’ the submission said. ‘As people age, opportunities for social interaction and meaningful engagement can diminish and as a society were are not very good at recognising or addressing this issue.’