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Although mental disorders occur commonly in later life, it has been reported that older adults are reluctant to seek help for their mental health problems. The purpose of this research study was to analyze the contact with healthcare professionals, self-perceived mental health problems and unmet needs, as reported by a nationally representative sample of community-dwelling adults. We report a cross-sectional analysis of all the respondents of the Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing aged 55 years and older (N=3178). Results indicated that 306 (9.6%) participants had a DSM-IV classifiable mental disorder based on self-identified symptoms over the preceding 12 months. Of these, 146 (48%) reported that they had not consulted a healthcare professional to deal with their mental health problems. Among those who consulted with a healthcare professional, the general practitioner was the main point of contact. Medication and psychotherapy/counseling were the most frequent form of help obtained. Informational and instrumental help, such as help to sort out practical problems and to look after oneself, were the most reported unmet needs. These results suggest a gap in the provision of healthcare services for mental health problems directed toward the specific needs of aging adults. The reported unmet needs might be met by increasing awareness amongst healthcare professionals regarding mental health problems in later stages of life and by improving the access of older people to the services commonly provided by multidisciplinary teams.

Original publication




Journal article


Arch Gerontol Geriatr

Publication Date





393 - 397


Aged, DSM-IV mental disorder, Health services, Healthcare, Mental health, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Australia, Cross-Sectional Studies, Female, Health Services Needs and Demand, Humans, Male, Mental Disorders, Mental Health Services, Middle Aged, Primary Health Care, Referral and Consultation