In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Assessing the Mental Health Needs of Older People

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Journals
  • Reference Resources
  • The UK Inquiry into Mental Health and Well-Being in Later Life
  • The Assessment Process
  • Psychosocial Interventions
  • Black and Minority Ethnic Older People
  • Carers
  • Public Policy and Mental Health

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Social Work Assessing the Mental Health Needs of Older People
Nadira Sharif
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0064


This bibliography identifies resources that provide a general introduction to the mental health of older people and assessment of mental health needs within social work settings. Reference is also made to various mental health conditions, including dementia and depression, the two major conditions affecting older people. This bibliography takes a holistic approach to mental health by not only focusing on mental illness but also encompassing well-being to reflect increasing international awareness of the significance of well-being as part of a comprehensive approach to improving mental health. Conceptual frameworks for mental health and well-being need to consider inherent cultural assumptions. The World Health Organization states in a universal definition that mental health is not just about the absence of mental illness, but “...a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community” (see Introductory Works). Mental well-being is related to good physical health and is fundamental to a person’s quality of life. Its benefits extend beyond the individual to include families and wider society. Social work assessments of older people should facilitate the early detection and management of mental health conditions so that eligible individuals, if they wish, can be referred to a range of services, from low-level preventive provision to more specialized intervention for severe cases of mental illness. However, in both health and social care settings, assessments often fail to recognize the mental health needs of older people, especially where these needs are less severe, hence the importance of encouraging user-led assessment.

Introductory Works

The tendency for research, policy, and practice has been to compartmentalize work on mental health and on older people or to focus only on specific illnesses such as dementia or depression, rather than adopting a more holistic approach that encompasses well-being. However, in recent years the importance of promoting well-being has gained increasing recognition in the international and national discourse about mental health (World Health Organization 2007) and Klausner and Alexopoulos 1999 predicted that psychosocial interventions would acquire a progressively more important role alongside traditional medical interventions. Cattan and Tilford 2006 and Cattan 2009 examine the meaning of mental health, mental illness, and mental health promotion and the challenges in using chronological age in debates about mental health. McInnis-Dittrich 2005 provides an invaluable introduction to the biopsychosocial changes related to ageing, the role of social work with older people, assessment, and problem solving interventions. Berkman and D’Ambruoso 2006 highlights that social work, health care and ageing are often treated as separate entities, but in fact social workers deal with the latter two areas as part of their day-to-day practice.

  • Berkman, Barbara, and Sarah D’Ambruoso, eds. 2006. Handbook of social work in health and aging. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195173727.001.0001

    Drawing on international examples, this invaluable reference is the first to integrate the fields of health care and aging. It includes separate chapters on assessment, the mental health of older people, and social work practice in different settings. The comprehensive nature of this book makes it a highly recommended text.

  • Cattan, Mima, ed. 2009. Mental health and well-being in later life. Maidenhead, UK: Open Univ. Press.

    This key text takes a holistic approach to the mental health and well-being issues that affect older people.

  • Cattan, Mima, and Sylvia Tilford, eds. 2006. Mental health promotion: A lifespan approach. Berkshire, UK: Open Univ. Press.

    This highly recommended textbook provides a clear and coherent overview of mental health promotion for all age groups, with a separate chapter dedicated to older people.

  • Finch, Jenny. 2004. Evaluating Mental Health Services for Older People. Oxford: Radcliffe Publishing.

    Drawing on international examples from the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe, this book comprehensively charts the developments in older people’s mental health services and highlights various models of evaluation.

  • Herrman, Helen, Shekhar Saxena, and Rob Moodie. 2005. Promoting Mental Health: Concepts, Emerging Evidence, Practice. Geneva: World Health Organization.

    This report explores the promotion of mental health and the available evidence on the effectiveness of interventions, while drawing implications for public health policy and practice.

  • Klausner, Ellen J., and George S. Alexopoulos. 1999. “The Future of Psychosocial Treatments for Elderly Patients.” Psychiatric Services. 50.9: 1198-1204.

    This paper reviews the evidence on the use of psychosocial interventions with older patients and proposes that these types of support will become an increasingly significant part of the practice of treating older people with psychiatric conditions.

  • McInnis-Dittrich, Kathleen. 2005. Social Work with Elders: A Biopsychosocial Approach to Assessment and Intervention. Boston: Pearson.

    This invaluable book includes material on biological changes and physical well-being; the impact of psychosocial approaches; assessment; and solution-focused interventions.

  • World Health Organization. 2007. Improving the mental health of the population: Can the European Union help?. 14th Report of Session 2006–2007. London: Stationery Office.

    The 2005 WHO conference on mental health problems across Europe produced a declaration acknowledging the fundamental role of mental health and mental well-being to individuals, families, communities, and nations. This led to the publication of the European Commission Green Paper “Improving the mental health of the population: Towards a strategy on mental health for the European Union” in October 2005. This report synthesizes the evidence relating to the Green Paper.

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