Government extends COVID-19 support for older Australians

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While some forms of COVID-19 support will be cut for Christmas, the federal government will ensure older Australians aren’t cut off – extending access to the services and assistance they need to get through the pandemic.

A $2.5 million investment will expand the Older Persons COVID-19 Support Line and will keep it going until 30 June 2021.

“The government will invest up to $2.5 million so senior Australians can continue to access information about the COVID-19 pandemic and get the support they need,” said Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck.

“Many vulnerable senior Australians may not have easy access to the internet or be able to readily access information about COVID-19.”

The help line receives around 27 calls a day and makes more than 161 a day.

“The support line has proved to be a very beneficial service for senior Australians who continue to face particular risks because of COVID-19, including social isolation and loneliness.

“Being able to pick up the phone and call someone, or receive calls from expert service providers, is proving to be very effective.”

A joint initiative of COTA Australia, Dementia Australia, National Seniors Australia and the Older Persons Advocacy Network, the service helps older people with wellbeing checks, information about COVID-19, advice for vulnerable people, information about travel restrictions and providing access to new, or queries about existing home-care services.

The expansion will now include support from the Partners in Culturally Appropriate Care (PICAC) Alliance.

“We identified the need early on in the COVID-19 pandemic to provide targeted support for vulnerable senior Australians who are at greater risk of isolation, carer stress and elder abuse,” said Mr Colbeck.

“The extension of this valuable service will now include outbound calls to carers of people living with dementia, as well as more specific community supports for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) seniors.

“The government’s investment in the Older Persons COVID-19 Support Line means people have multiple ways to communicate their questions and concerns with trusted community organisations working with senior Australians.

“The additional services will be established as quickly as possible to ensure all senior Australians, no matter what their circumstances, can access the support they need, when they need it, in a way they prefer.”

The government is also rolling out a COVID-19 mental health campaign – How’s your head today? – to raise awareness of mental health issues caused by COVID-19 and to encourage people to seek help.

The program encourages all Australians to check in with how they are feeling and will be provided in 15 languages including Vietnamese, Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, Greek, Italian, Korean, Spanish, Punjabi, Hindi, Khmer, Thai, Turkish, Persian and Macedonian.

COVID-19 has had a significant effect on the mental health and wellbeing of many Australians and has also caused isolation, job losses and financial stress.

Crisis organisations and suicide prevention services, such as Lifeline and Beyond Blue are reporting a significant increase in the number of people seeking help, and Medicare statistics also reveal a significant uptake of mental health telehealth services.

The campaign aims to encourage Australians to make their mental health and wellbeing a priority and to show them support is available, when and where they need it, said federal health minister Greg Hunt.

“I encourage all Australians to seek help if experiencing mental ill-health. Talk to your GP, reach out to Beyond Blue or Lifeline, or visit Headtohealth.gov.au,” he said.

“Ten additional Medicare subsidised psychological therapy sessions are available for people subjected to further restrictions in areas impacted by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Victorians can also access free-of-charge 15 HeadtoHelp centres across the state or visit Headtohelp.org.au.”

National Mental Health Commission CEO, Christine Morgan, has also called on Australians to “walk together, side by side over the coming months”.

“Everyone has and may continue to have their mental health and wellbeing impacted by the pandemic. Whether you have an existing mental illness or have had your mental health challenged, it is important to seek support and treatment as a priority for your overall wellbeing – the support and treatment is available,” she said.

“Staying connected to your loved ones and your community is fundamental to your mental health and wellbeing at the moment. It is one of the proactive tasks that is important for all of us to do each and every day.

“If you notice that someone has disconnected, reach out and ask them how they are doing as we walk together, side by side over the coming months.”

The Australian Government has allocated $10 million to support the program and has, so far, provided more than $500 million in funding to respond to the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For information, advice and support services visit www.headtohelp.com.au. The Older Persons COVID-19 Support Line is available on 1800 171 866, Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 6pm, except public holidays.

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?

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