Helen McGowan

Older Persons Psychiatry Ambassador

Helen McGowan

Q: What are your goals for Equally Well? What inspires you about Equally Well?

A:Older People are frequently forgotten when planning mental health services and I am keen to keep their concerns visible. Frequently their mental health issues are complicated by or triggered by physical health concerns. Hence, it is important to ensure that physical and mental health services are collaborative and well-integrated and keep the patient and their family at the centre of their focus.

Q: How do you see Equally Well benefiting carers/consumers/practitioners?

A: Ensuring that the physical and mental health concerns of older people are considered and addressed.

Q: What hurdles do you currently see Equally Well facing and will have to face in the future? Is there a particular area you believe needs more focus that Equally Well can develop on?

A:There are multiple funding streams and complex governance supporting the mental and physical health of older people and this impacts adversely on the ability to plan and deliver services. This has been very evident in the COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria, where the response has been hampered by lack of clarity of funding and responsibility. I would like to see a more collaborative approach between commonwealth and state to resolve the leadership and funding issues that constrain the sector. In particular there should be more opportunities for GPs to receive more training and support from geriatricians and psychogeriatricians in the care of older people – this may require review of Medicare rebates and facilitating telehealth access support and promotion of access to these services.

Q: What have you personally learnt and has this knowledge impacted your life and/or the lives of those around you?

A: Many people in the community, including GPs are not aware of the specialist mental health services for the elderly and many older people receive sub-optimal care for complex mental and physical health issues. In particular, prescription of psychotropic medication can be inappropriate and cause unnecessary physical side effects. The specialist services are very effective in alleviating distress in consumers and their families, even though there are no silver bullets for treatment of dementia and it is important to promote access to these services.

Q: What do you see is your role for Equally Well as one of our ambassadors?

A: To promote equity of access to excellent physical and mental health services for the elderly.