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Older men a suicide risk

More males over the age of 85 years are reported to commit suicide than in any other age group in Australia, and at more than five times the rate of females in the same age group.

And up to 83 per cent of older people who commit suicide suffered from depression.

These worrying statistics are reported in the latest Research to Practice Briefing survey from the The Benevolent Society.

At a recent launch of the study, the Federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, said that more needs to be done to integrate health and aged care services and to get out the message that mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are not a normal part of ageing.

Depressive symptoms are thought to occur in up to 50 per cent of older people living in residential aged care and in excess of 10 per cent of older people living in the community.

Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that a large portion of the suffering patients remain undiagnosed, the “silent epidemic” left without recognition or treatment.

Adding to the problem, older people, in comparison to their younger counterparts, aren’t acknowledging or reporting mental illness – not admitting when they are feeling depressed, sad or down. The lack of detection and treatment is leading a new push to address how healthcare professionals identify and support patients who show signs of mental illness.

CEO of the Benevolent Society Anne Hollonds believes that this is a growing problem that society needs to take very seriously.

“Depression and anxiety are not an ordinary part of ageing, they are serious illnesses and a major risk for older people – in fact, older people have a higher risk of suicide than the general population,” she said.

These startling figures suggest that this is a genuine industry concern.

Often mental illness can be brushed aside in the elderly because there are often other issues that take prevalence, believes Kate Carnell, CEO of beyondblue.

“Whether it be a physical health problem or an issue with mobility, often other issues seem more important. Mental health issues aren’t seen as being as important, but they are,” she said.

Other common misconceptions include: mental illness cannot be treated in the elderly, all individuals with mental illness are dangerous and people who live with others are not lonely or socially isolated and are therefore not at risk of becoming depressed.

Carnell says there are a variety of reasons behind the presentation of depressive symptoms in elderly patients. “There are a range of stress factors that are more likely to affect people as they get older,” she says. “For instance, people with chronic disease that are in chronic pain and find it difficult to do things they used to do.”

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