A good place to grow old?: an exploration of the role of psychosocial factors in late life depression
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Depression in the oldest-old, the fastest growing sector of the population, presents serious challenges to healthy and successful ageing. The over 75's health check process identified heightened rates of depression in a new town population. The potentially serious implications of such findings provided the impetus for the current study. Psychological and social theories of ageing together with a wide-ranging empirical and epidemiological literature highlight the positive mental health value in late-life of active involvement, social support and emotional support in particular. It was hypothesised that the perceived adequacy of socioemotional support and the esteem-enhancing qualities of social integration and sense of belonging may reduce vulnerability to depression in late life. A limited amount of research has begun to address the possible connections between sense of belonging and depression in younger adults. The current study aimed to examine the relationship between social integration, sense of belonging and depression in older adults.Sixty-three participants were recruited to the study through the over 75's health check process, twenty-eight identified as "depressed" and thirty-five as "non-depressed". Each participant completed a semi-structured interview including questions relating to active engagement, sense of belonging and loneliness together with a set of questionnaires relating particularly to life events and social support. Life events and medical problems were regarded as examples of stressors and the role of potential protective factors was examined in relation to these.The proposed association between social support and depression was confirmed though the role of practical support was emphasised in this oldest old cohort. No evidence was found of a stress-buffering role of social support. The mental health value of social integration was generally confirmed by the study findings. As an initial examination of sense of belonging in an oldest old population the current study highlights its potential protective value in terms of late-life depression. The need for further examination of this psychological construct is indicated together with the development of a reliable and valid scale for its measurement.All results are discussed with reference to relevant theory and previous research findings and in terms of their clinical implications.