Filling the gaps? The role of voluntary organizations in supporting older people with severe mental illnesses [2018]

Older people ageing with severe mental illness (SMI) usually fall in between mental health care and old age care services. The role of informal care in filling this gap is recognized. The role of other welfare providers, such as voluntary organizations, is unclear. The aim of this article is to analyze and discuss local voluntary organizations’ ability to recognize and respond to the needs of older people with SMI in the community.

11 local organizations focusing on mental illness, social care or old age were identified in a mid-sized Swedish city. Seven voluntary organizations participated in the study.

Our analysis revealed three overarching themes: ‘Age as a non-issue?’, ‘Public and voluntary sector (non)links’ and ‘organizational vulnerabilities’. Our results show that older people with SMI are to some extent also invisible in the voluntary sector. We were also able to discern differences in the ‘we-for-us’ organizations that provide support for their own members with SMI, and ‘we-for-them’ organizations that provide help to a broader group.

Overall, older people with SMI remain a relatively invisible as a group for the voluntary organizations. We discuss these findings in relation to the specificity of the group and welfare contexts of voluntary work in communities.

Magnus Jegermalm, Monika Wilinska, Marie Ernsth Bravell, Pia Bülow, Per Bülow & Cristina Joy Torgé
Nordic Social Work Research, 07 Dec 2018