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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: August 2018

13 - Mental health of older people



This chapter discusses the process of positive ageing, the life course and the changing cultural norms of older people within contemporary society. The chapter aims to assist practitioners to consider and understand how ageism and subsequent stigma and discrimination can affect the well-being of older people and their loved ones and carers. The multiple losses and associated mental health conditions are also discussed, and specific approaches to mental health care required to support human connectedness with older people are explored. Common mental health conditions, associated risk factors and considerations for treatment embedded within a recovery approach are explained. The chapter concludes with an exploration of future issues for this area of specialty practice.


Getting older and doing more (Office for Senior Citizens, 2012) is a description that epitomises older people as an increasingly diverse and active group that continues to maintain its autonomy and well-being, even into later life. As the life expectancy of people in both New Zealand and Australia increases (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2012; Office for Senior Citizens, 2012), older citizens are living longer than the previous generation. The most significant ageing in the population is seen in the baby boomer generation, that group born in the period 1946 to 1964 (Ministry of Social Development (MSD), 2016). For example, demographic projections suggest that New Zealanders over the age of 65 years will exceed one million by 2030. Further, ageing citizens will live longer; in the year 2010, in New Zealand the male population in the 80 years and older age group increased by 5.1 per cent (2900) to reach 60 200, while the female population increased by 2.8 per cent (2500) to 93 200. Likewise, the Australian government has projected that the proportion of adults over 65 years will make up 25 per cent of the population by 2050. The majority of older Australians retain a reasonable standard of living; in 2009 only 7 per cent of older people were living below the low-income threshold, compared with 21 per cent of children (Pearson et al., 2012).

Importantly, by continuing to participate in society, older people maintain their status as full citizens (Brannelly, 2006; Hamer, 2012). Rather than being regarded as passive recipients of care, older people expect to continue to fulfil the same roles and responsibilities as others in society.