Social Participation of Older Adults with Mental Health Problems
It is common knowledge that the population of older adults is significantly increasing and that those who live in the community often face social isolation. What may be less well-known is that social isolation can have a detrimental effect on the mental health of this population. For example, socially isolated older adults may be at greater risk for cognitive decline; there is a significant correlation between social isolation and depression; and isolated older men are at greater risk of death by suicide1. A social network can play an important role in preventing these outcomes (e.g., individuals are encouraged to adhere to treatment regimens or to avoid risky or negative behaviours).
The problems caused by social isolation are compounded when older adults have a history of mental health problems. These individuals are more likely to be doubly stigmatized and may not have the skills or comfort level to make use of existing community resources.
Literature suggests that small group meetings with an educational focus are most effective to decrease social isolation. Consequently, at the CSSS Cavendish, we are conducting a pilot project that involves group interventions to address common potential barriers faced by older adults with mental health problems (e.g., stigma, emotional symptoms, problem-solving abilities, lifestyle skills, social networks, physical health and aging, community involvement, etc.).
We are also developing a facilitator’s guide for workers in community organizations whose role will be to sensitize members of this target population about common barriers to social participation; provide them with an opportunity to improve their skills; and clarify available resources. Feedback from a consultation committee (including service users) and the pilot project will be integrated into the guide.
 Nicholson, N. R. (2012). A review of social isolation: an important but underassessed condition in older adults. J Prim Prev, 33(2-3), 137-152.