Published on June 29, 2012 at 5:16 AM
Older people experiencing low-level social capital are more likely to suffer from mental ill-health and this risk group should have access to initiatives that empower social networking and a maintained rich social life. Researcher Anna Forsman at the Nordic School of Public Health NHV have examined how mental health can be promoted and mental health problems be prevented among older adults by using psychosocial initiatives.
The PhD thesis The Importance of Social Capital in Later Life. Mental Health Promotion and Mental Disorder Prevention among Older Adults will be 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 prioritise the promotion of mental health, as well as the prevention of depression also 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.
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. 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.