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Communicating with older people about positive mental health

Simone Pettigrew (Based at the School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia)
Robert J. Donovan (Based at the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer Control, Curtin University, Perth, Australia)
Melanie Pescud (Based at the School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia)
Robert Newton (Based at the School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia)
Duncan Boldy (Based at the Centre for Research on Ageing, Curtin University, Perth, Australia)

Journal of Public Mental Health

ISSN: 1746-5729

Article publication date: 22 June 2012




In response to a call for greater attention to the mental health promotion needs of older people, this study aims to identify those aspects of mental health messages that may be particularly effective with older audiences.


Individual interviews and focus groups were conducted with 111 Australians aged 40 years and older.


A low level of knowledge relating to mental health issues and the confounding of mental health with mental illness resulted in participants stating a preference for health experts, government officials, and high‐profile and “everyday” individuals who have successfully recovered from mental illness as spokespeople for mental health messages. A common theme was that spokespersons should have evident and extensive knowledge of .mental illness, either through qualifications, occupation, or personal experience.


The findings demonstrate the highly negative connotations surrounding mental illness and the lack of familiarity with the concept of positive mental health. There is much scope to educate the public about the importance of staying mentally healthy and how this outcome may be achieved.



Pettigrew, S., Donovan, R.J., Pescud, M., Newton, R. and Boldy, D. (2012), "Communicating with older people about positive mental health", Journal of Public Mental Health, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 65-76.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited