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Psychosocial Interventions Reduce Mental Illness In Older People Who Have Limited Social Resources

Researcher Anna Forsman

Researcher Anna Forsman

Older people who have limited social resources are more likely to suffer from mental illness. Researcher Anna Forsman at the Nordic School of Public Health NHV examined how mental health can be promoted and mental health problems be prevented among older adults by using psychosocial initiatives. Forsman believed that this group at risk for mental illness should have access to initiatives that empower social networking and a maintained rich social life.

The PhD thesis, “The Importance of Social Capital in Later Life. Mental Health Promotion and Mental Disorder Prevention among Older Adults,” was defended at the Nordic School of Public Health NHV on June 8. Anna Forsman works as a project researcher at NHV and at The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) in Vaasa, Finland.

Depression is among the most prevalent mental health disorders among older adults both globally and in the Nordic countries. With the ageing population constantly increasing it is essential to prioritize the promotion of mental health, as well as the prevention of depression in these age groups, according to Forsman.

The studies that the thesis is based on show a significant association between limited “social capital” and depression and psychological distress in older people. Based on both quantitative and qualitative data, the findings of the thesis highlight the effectiveness and subjective importance of social activities for the maintenance of mental health and well-being among older adults.

The social activities are an important mental health resource among older adults because of the accompanied sense of belonging to a social group, as well as feelings of purpose with regard to everyday life through new social roles. The social activities evaluated in the systematic review and meta-analysis included in the thesis also significantly reduced depressive symptoms when compared to no-intervention controls.

“The thesis illustrates the need to actively maintain the social networks and interactions of older people in order to support active and healthy ageing,” says Forsman.

However, the research also reveales the scarce research base of psychosocial interventions, as only a small number of relatively small studies were included in the evaluation.

Material adapted from Nordic School of Public Health.

Forsman, A.K., Nyqvist, F., Schierenbeck, I., Gustafson, Y. & Wahlbeck, K. (2012). Structural and cognitive social capital and depression among older adults in two Nordic regions. Aging & Mental Health, doi:10.1080/13607863.2012.667784 (published online ahead of print).

Forsman, A.K., Nyqvist, F. & Wahlbeck, K. (2011). Cognitive components of social capital and mental health status among older adults: A population-based cross-sectional study. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 39, 757-65.

Forsman, A.K., Schierenbeck, I. & Wahlbeck, K. (2011). Psychosocial interventions for the prevention of depression in older adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Aging and Health, 23, 387-416.

Forsman, A.K., Herberts, C., Nyqvist, F., Wahlbeck, K. & Schierenbeck, I. (2012). Understanding the role of social capital for mental wellbeing among older adults. Ageing & Society, doi:10.1017/S0144686X12000256 (published online ahead of print).

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