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The New Zealand Medical Journal (NZMJ) recently released an article Specialist mental health care for older adults in New Zealand—an exploration of service models and routine data which concluded that there needs to be a national consistency in data collection and service delivery for older people with mental health needs.

The research stated that older people are often overlooked in reporting about mental health services, partly due to inconsistent service provision and the lack of national data.

Ministry of Health deputy director of mental health Ian Soosay said he welcomed the helpful study and acknowledged the need for good mental health services for all New Zealanders including older people.

“The ministry recognises the limitations of the PRIMHD data system which was designed to monitor specialist adult mental health provision but does not record services provided in primary care or other specialist medical services in the same detail.”

PRIMHD is a Ministry of Health national mental health and addiction data collection service.

“Future developments in mental health will need to be holistic and involve community and health responses across the continuum so we can better monitor and meet the mental health needs of New Zealand.”

The need for more consistent service provision has been recognised by the ministry and is reflected in the mental health inquiry, he said.

“He Ara Oranga – the report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction – has identified recommendations to improve our mental health and addiction systems for all New Zealanders.”

The inquiry was released in December and will be formally responded to by government in March.

New Zealand Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said mental health is just as much of an issue for older people as it is for anyone else.

“Being older doesn’t mean you are exempt from those issues.”

Service provision does need to change because there is research that suggests those living at home, rather than in aged care, are worse off when it comes to mental health, he said.

Research shows that older Kiwis who have experienced mental health issues see an improvement if they are in aged care.

“In terms of social isolation and loneliness when a person comes into care or a rest home 82 per cent felt better after being in care for six months.”

Aside from social interactions being in aged care also means people get the support and treatment they need without slipping through the cracks which could happen at home, Wallace said.

The research released in NZMJ used a survey of DHBs and information reported to the Ministry of Health for the Northern part of New Zealand to investigate what mental health services are provided to older adults (from the age of 65).

Two in every one hundred older adults access mental health services each year.

The research found DHBs vary in funding, access and reporting arrangements for older people’s mental health services.

“Most services provide information into PRIMHD, but this is often partially complete.

“People aged 65–74 were more likely to have previously used mental health services, live in deprived areas, have functional mental health conditions and have high treatment intensity than older age groups.”

The research also concluded that further investigation is needed to understand the needs of people with prior mental health service contact.

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