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Needs assessment of older people with chronic mental illness

Author: Rob Gill
04 August 2015
  • The ANU's Sharon Leigh-Hazell is interviewing for her research into models of care for older people with chronic mental illness

An Australian National University researcher has begun investigating whether existing models of care meet the mental and physical health needs of older people with chronic mental illness.

PhD student Sharon Leigh-Hazell is looking into services and support in Canberra and surrounding region for people 60 years and over who have had a mental health condition for more than five years.

Ms Leigh-Hazell said she was interviewing older people and people who support them, to glean information from their experiences and opinions. Her background as a demographer and her experience as a carer for her late mother, who had bipolar disorder, prompted her to undertake the PhD project.

As a member of several committees with a focus on mental health and aged care in the ACT, she observes that the small jurisdiction has much in its favour.

Ms Leigh-Hazell said there was relatively little research about models of care for older people with long-term mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder in the ACT and surrounding region.

“I am particularly interested in the connection between physical and mental health services and supports and the needs of the older person and carers.

 "I want to find out if current models of care are meeting the needs of older people living with chronic mental illness", she said. "If not, what other strategies can be put in place for now and in the future?

“While this study does not specifically focus on palliative care models, it does not preclude people receiving palliative care from participating. Factors identified as important or a barrier to effective care by the study participants may also be applicable to palliative care.

“Older people with chronic mental illness have a lower life expectancy and are more likely to have other serious health conditions including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Research has shown that despite the high prevalence of mental illness among aged-care residents, they are less likely to receive services for their condition. It is important that older people with chronic mental illness retain their dignity and independence,” she said.

“I will also be talking with service providers and related organisations to explore how current practice, local protocols and processes work, and what service providers identify as barriers in getting their job done.”

Anyone wishing to take part in the research program can contact Sharon Leigh-Hazell on 02 61251624 or via email.

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