Available national data (e.g. from the TILDA survey ) shows substantial unmet need for access to mental health services for older persons with common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Utilisation of counselling/psychotherapy services amongst older people is considerably lower relative to need in comparison to other age groups and addressing this issue is one of the priority targets under the current Healthy Ireland programme.
ALONE is a national organisation supporting large numbers of older people to age well at home, and has an important role in working with the HSE on Sláintecare’s Enhanced Community Care programme. One of ALONE’s core services is ‘Support Coordination’, where social care workers assess older people’s needs for support in different areas of life and connect them to the services they require. A substantial number of ALONE clients have needs in the emotional/ mental health domain, and the service has been looking for ways to support such clients to be better able to access appropriate mental health services. The VideoConnect pilot project is an initiative that hopes to make an important contribution in this regard.
VideoConnect commenced in October 2022 with seed-start funding from Mental Health Reform, the national coalition of non-profit mental health organisations, as part of its capacity-building programme on mental health service innovation. A core focus is to explore the potential for remote access to counselling from one’s own home via a video call with the counsellor, hence the title of the project. This is to be part of a flexible model allowing clients access whatever mix of face-to-face and video counselling sessions they would prefer.
Helplink Mental Health are partnering with ALONE to provide the counselling service for the pilot project. They have been providing online counselling for over ten years nationally and internationally, and also provide face-to-face counselling in a number of locations in the west of Ireland. By working together, ALONE and Helplink hope to be able to address current gaps in service provision where older persons cannot currently access services outside the home due to lack of mobility and/or carer commitments or absence of services in the geographical locality.
When a client becomes a participant in the pilot, ALONE staff assess their access to technology and will loan a tablet or other device if necessary. They also provide basic training and set-up support on how to use the equipment and connect to the Helplink service, and support the client to make the initial connection with the counsellor through a three-way call. As well as making access to counselling easier, the development of online skills is likely to be beneficial for the older person in other areas of their everyday life.
The pilot project provides an opportunity for the partners to explore and fine-tune the different components of the offer and to get feedback from older persons on how it works for them. This will help develop a ‘proof of concept’ for a service model that can be scaled-up to address the large volumes of unmet need in this area across the country.
“It is a pleasure to be involved with Helplink Mental Health for this Video Counselling programme for Older People. We know from our own work that new technologies can and do play a huge part in the services that we offer, so it is crucial for older people to engage with technology as much as possible, where appropriate. This pilot will be a particularly positive thing for those who are living rurally and struggle to access mental health facilities.
“We know that experiences during the pandemic affected mental health for many older persons, and that 7 in 10 older people suffered from feeling loneliness very often. As we emerge from that difficult time, we must look for enterprising ways to address these issues, which is why we are proud to launch this pilot programme,” ALONE CEO, Seán Moynihan, commented.
“This is a fantastic partnership between ALONE, Mental Health Reform and Helplink, as it has created a great opportunity for some of the most vulnerable in our communities to receive evidenced based mental health support from the comfort of their own homes. We know, from our many years of providing accessible mental health supports, both on and off line, that accessibility to services is the key to getting people the support they need; where and when they want it,” CEO of Helplink Mental Health Lochlann Scott, remarked.