North Coast

New Funding Delivers Free Mental Health Support for Northern NSW Residents in Aged Care Facilities

Healthy North Coast (HNC) has provided funding through its Primary Health Network (PHN) program for counselling and psychological support services to people in residential aged care facilities (RACFs).

The PHN program is an Australian Government initiative.

In Northern NSW, the service is being delivered by Change Futures Ltd, a registered charity that provides quality mental health services to the community through individual and group programs delivered by psychologists.

Their Wellbeing Support Service offers free, evidence-based individual and group counselling and psychological therapies tailored to the needs of people living in aged care. RACF residents previously had to pay for these services.

Change Futures is also working closely with RACF staff to provide additional mental health training and capacity-building opportunities.

“Change Futures’ Wellbeing Support Service has been particularly beneficial to residents in responding to the potential for increased distress because of social isolation caused by COVID-19,” said HNC Chief Executive, Julie Sturgess.

“Currently, aged care residents are not eligible for mental health services under the government’s Better Access mental health initiative, unlike older people living in the community. This service is a positive change for RACF residents.”

Federal Member for Page, Kevin Hogan, said the new program will make a big difference to people in the region’s residential aged care facilities.

“Our government is committed to supporting Australians in aged care and this program will provide a safe, accessible channel to counsellors who residents can talk to,” he said.

Research undertaken by Beyond Blue shows that 10 to 15 per cent of older people experience depression and about 10 per cent experience anxiety. The rate of depression among people living in RACFs is believed to be much higher, at around 52 per cent.

For some people, adapting to living in a RACF can include:

  • psychological adjustment to entering care and approaching the end of life
  • physical and health challenges
  • anxiety and stress
  • social isolation
  • grief and loss.

Julie Aganoff, Executive Director of the Change Futures service, said it is a very big change for people to leave their homes and move into residential aged care.

“Many people experience grief and loss, and it takes time to adjust to a different way of living. This service helps ease some of the distress experienced by new residents,” she said. 

“Many of the older people living in aged care have had to deal with a lot of challenges in their lives, often without asking for help. Some can be experiencing anxiety or depression, either as a result of their new circumstances or sometimes this has been a longer-term issue for them.

“What we love to see is the capacity of even very old people to grow and change, to learn new ways of thinking and increase their understanding of themselves.

“We evaluate our program each year and we find that the service makes a difference, it improves the quality of life of people living in aged care.

“It is sad that there have been virtually no services in the past to meet these demands, however we are very glad that we can contribute something worthwhile to our oldest citizens.”

Ms Sturgess said the service had been established after a successful 2019 trial involving nine RACFs from Kempsey to Tweed Heads. The trial was also run in two Queensland locations in partnership with local PHNs. The combined evaluation report showed measurable benefit from the availability of mental health support within RACFs. 


If you would like more information about Change Futures’ Wellbeing Support Service, or to make a referral, you can call 0421 493 273 or email: [email protected]


A similar service has been funded in the Mid North Coast and is contracted to EACH, an organisation providing an integrated range of health, disability, counselling and community mental health services across Australia.