F5.3 Older people living in residential aged care facilities (RACFs): Mental health services within everyone’s reach


Elizabeth Banitsiotis
Relationships Australia South Australia

Assuna Schultz
Relationships Australia South Australia

Thursday 18 May 2023

Time: 10:10am – 10:40am

Room: Room 9

F5.3 Ageing

Older people living in residential aged care facilities (RACFs): Mental health services within everyone’s reach


Traditionally, working therapeutically with older people living in residential aged care facilities (RACF) was not considered a priority, was not accessible, and few practitioners considered a career in this area. In the past, the mental health needs of older people living in RACFs was neglected with minimal services available to meet the needs of this population. Many held inaccurate beliefs about the psychological and emotional needs of people living in RACFs, leading to residents feeling abandoned with no quality of life, in the “waiting room to heaven”. These misconceptions have been challenged in the last few years and the light is finally shining on the mental health needs of this population.

Furthermore, ageism is universally widespread and while human rights law applies to people of all ages, there is seldom reference to the older person. Consequently, the needs and rights of older people have tended to remain unnoticed, and older people tend to be particularly vulnerable to discrimination and human rights violations.

People living in RACFs experience higher rates of mental illness compared with their peers in the community. For many, entering a RACF is under traumatic and stressful conditions, often following a medical episode or hospital admission, without opportunity to return home. For others, the stoic and private tendencies of older people, coupled with cultural and gender expectations means that these people have spent a lifetime suffering silently with past traumas and emotional pain. Often, when afforded an opportunity, residents appreciate the chance to speak of this pain in a safe, respectful, and confidential manner.

In 2018, the Commonwealth funded Mental Health in Residential Aged Care initiative commenced. Relationships Australia South Australia was commissioned to provide free individual and group therapy services to people living in RACFs. Provision of psychological services to people living in RACFs is leading to an overall improvement in mental health outcomes, quality of life and mental health literacy of RACF staff, families and other people involved in the resident’s life. This presentation will show how provision of psychological support for older people in RACFs improves outcomes for the resident, primary carers, and families. Working collaboratively is key to maximising the psychological wellbeing and best interests of the resident within a person-centred framework.

In conclusion, older people living in RACFs matter, and their needs deserve to be highlighted, prioritised, and protected. Sharing knowledge and education on how to appropriately meet their psychological needs is one step in this direction.


Elizabeth Banitsiotis is a Clinical Psychologist with over 20 years’ experience providing psychological services to people of varying ages and backgrounds. She has a special interest and presently works in Gero-psychology. Elizabeth is registered with the Psychology Board of Australia, Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and is a member of the Australian Psychological Society (APS) and the Australian Association of Gerontology (AAG).

Assuna Schultz is the Manager of the Supporting Emotional Wellness in Aged Care – Relationships Australia – South Australia. She is a Mental Health Accredited Social worker and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree, Graduate Certificate in Grief, Loss and Trauma Counselling and a Masters in Social Work, alongside numerous trauma informed accreditations such as EMDR. She has a strong social justice focus and is passionate about working to ensure older people have access to high quality care. She is passionate about working collaboratively with clients and their families to provide a holistic and client-centred approach.