COTA Victoria Working Paper on Social Isolation, Mental Health and welbeing of Older Victorians

The COTA Working Paper launched by Dr Cathy Mead, Chair of COTA comes at the other end of this discussion in identifying the risks of mental illness for older people if they remain isolated and excluded.

So what do we mean by isolation? The latest Census figures show that more than one in three women and one in five men over 65 years in Australia live alone. But living alone does not always equate with isolation, but it can be an indicator. Isolation is the absence of relationships, and a limitation on the familial, social or cultural networks from which people derive meaning and a sense of belonging. Isolation is the ‘subjective, felt experience of loneliness and the perception of a lack of social support’… and it is this subjective dissatisfaction or felt disconnection that impacts most strongly on mental wellbeing and on mental illness.

Mental Health issues for older people relate to and include illness such as depression, anxiety, psychosis or even tendencies toward bipolar disorders. They are not necessarily characteristic for people who are older but older people may be more vulnerable to such conditions if they are affected by changes to mobility, residence and the loss of partners and if they experience isolation.

The research for this Paper suggests that social isolation amongst older people may be prevalent in about 7-8% of older people and that it is expected to rise. Women tend to have more developed social networks than men, and therefore older men may be more prevalent to social isolation and feel disconnected or be isolated from family and social activities. Further, older persons from migrant or culturally and linguistically different backgrounds may be at increased risk of social isolation if they have poor English or low knowledge of or ability to access services.

The mental health risks faced by older persons who are isolated are such that greater attention is needed to develop age-friendly communities to minimize the experience of disconnection. For further information see the COTA website: http://www.cota.org.au/australia/aboutus/default.aspx

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