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Working with older people: Mental health and addiction workforce development priorities

Like other developed nations, New Zealand’s population is ageing. The number of New Zealanders aged 65 years and over (older people) is expected to increase by nearly 40 per cent over the next ten years to 2028 and this population will become more ethnically diverse over time.

Mental health and addiction issues among older New Zealanders are often under-recognised. Each year, one to two in every six older people may have serious problems with mental health or alcohol consumption. Prescribing rates for mental health medications are high for older people but their access to secondary care mental health and addiction services is low. 

In 2018, Te Pou began a project to identify workforce development priorities and workforce initiatives to grow and develop the mental health and addiction workforce for older people. 

This report summarises the first-year project findings. These were developed using a workforce planning approach to identify 10 workforce development priorities across the Ministry of Health’s five domains of workforce development. These include:

  • strengthening the workforce development infrastructure by ensuring the voices of older people and whānau are heard and prioritised in planning; ensuring service delivery to older people is recorded; and implementing a primary prevention strategy
  • improving data and information about the incidence of mental health and substance use problems among older New Zealanders and modelling workforce supply and demand
  • using learning and development activities to build workforce capabilities across sectors working with older people who have high mental health and addiction needs and whānau
  • supporting organisations to develop recruitment and retention strategies to build workforce capacity and wellbeing
  • promoting organisational development to build age-friendly cultures, leadership and networks, and increasing the range of culturally relevant services available.

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