TV icons Noeline Brown and Gregory Ross on ageing and mental health

Nov 01, 2020
Noeline Brown and Gregory Ross are helping older Australians improve their mental wellbeing. Source: Getty and Youtube/Macquarie University.

Mental health has been pushed into the spotlight recently after Covid-19 forced senior Australians indoors, away from their loved ones and often completely on their own. But thankfully, the impacts of isolation haven’t gone unnoticed by experts looking to create a better environment for older Aussies who may be suffering in silence.

According to the World Health Organization, over 70 per cent of 130 countries reported pandemic-related disruptions to mental health services for older Australians. This is why experts have created a more accessible online program aimed at a demographic that is all too often left by the wayside when it comes to improving mental wellbeing.

Director of the Centre for Ageing, Cognition and Wellbeing at Macquarie University Viviana Wuthrich – who helped to develop the Ageing Wisely Online program – said that starting a digital mental heath initiative is a low-cost first step to improving overall wellbeing. She added that the program has specifically been designed to be used by everyone, including those who aren’t as computer-savvy as others.

“We developed the internet intervention because there’s actually very few internet programs designed for older people,” she said. “It’s becoming a bit more common now for younger people to have access to internet programs where they can learn psychological skills to change their behaviours and thoughts and manage their moods better. But there haven’t been many of these developed for older people.”

To help reach the target audience, the programs enlisted the help of veteran Aussie actress Noeline Brown, who’s starred in everything from Matlock Police to The Naked Vicar Show, and fellow actor Gregory Ross, who is known for his work on Cop Shop among other things.

Brown, 82, told Starts at 60 that during this unique time, it’s vital to maintain relationships and remain persistent when checking up on loved ones. “It’s really important to get in touch where you can whether it’s calling friends up or sending an email,” she said. “And if they don’t send a response back then just keep pestering them until they do.

“Also be aware of people’s needs and think well if someone isn’t able to get out of the house then it’s really up to me to give them a hand. There’s something about helping other people that’s wonderful for your own mental health. The more you do in a charitable way, the more you get back.”

Meanwhile, Ross ,72, has been stuck in Melbourne amid an almost four-month lockdown that was just recently eased. He described the lockdown as “one of the most profound things that’s happened in his life” and said that programs such as this will help to provide support and structure to those in similar situations.

“Someone once said to me that anxiety is looking forward and depression is looking back,” he said. “I think it’s a good way of putting it because both of those two things are very disabling for people who are highly anxious or are depressed. They need all the help they can get and hopefully the ageing wisely program will give them the tools to work with.”

Shockingly, suicide rates in older men are four times that of women and twice that of teenage males. And while isolation has played a massive role in these crippling statistics, Wuthrich said that it’s not just loneliness and depression affecting older Australians throughout the pandemic but also a heightened level of anxiety brought on by the reality of the pandemic.

“We know that older Australians have been a particularly vulnerable population,” she said. “Not only because they’ve had more isolation, but also the reason they’re more vulnerable is if they get the virus, they’re more likely to have to have serious consequences which means it’s also just raised the anxiety levels of older Australians in general. For younger people, they’re conscious of it. But for the older people we’ve spoken to, particularly those with partners who have chronic health issues, they think about every surface that they touch.”

Those who want to know more about the program or who want to take part can find out more here.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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