Aware’s older adult research reveals high rates of depression and anxiety

Aware’s older adult research reveals high rates of depression and anxiety.

  • 1 in 3 experiencing loneliness and isolation
  • One third (34 per cent) experiencing mild to moderate levels of depression, two fifths (41 per cent) with mild to moderate anxiety
  • 14 per cent considered ending their lives in the last 12 months
  • Those living with a chronic illness more likely to experience depression, anxiety and loneliness
  • Majority (88 per cent) still feel healthy enough to get out and about

ALONE welcomes the research, highlighting the need for a national conversation about mental health in older age.

Aware to offer free Life Skills Programme for Older Adults in response to findings.

Aware, the national mental health organisation today announced the findings from its recent survey focused on the mental health experiences of older adults in Ireland. The online survey was conducted by Amárach Research with a nationally representative sample of 288 adults aged 65 and over in November 2023. The research was made possible in partnership with Community Foundation Ireland as part of its mission of ‘Equality For All In Thriving Communities’.

The survey revealed that depression is prevalent within this cohort, with one third exhibiting symptoms of mild to moderate levels (28 and 6 per cent respectively). Those living with a chronic illness were significantly more likely to experience depression with over 51 per cent scoring in the mild or moderate range versus 23 per cent of respondents who did not have a chronic illness. Female respondents were more likely to experience depression (42 per cent versus 26 per cent), along with those who were not in a relationship (45 per cent) or lived alone (45 percent).

Two fifths of respondents scored within the range for mild to moderate anxiety (36 per cent and 5 per cent respectively). Reflecting the findings above, those living with a chronic illness were more likely to experience anxiety (54 per cent versus 32 per cent), females (50 per cent) and those not in a relationship (54 per cent) or living alone (52 per cent).

In the last 12 months, 14 per cent of those surveyed had thoughts where they felt they could not go on and considered ending their lives.

Commenting on the results, Dr Susan Brannick, Clinical Director at Aware said: “These results are broadly in line with research into the prevalence of depression in this age group. Depression can impact on quality of life and be a risk factor for suicide in older adults. Depression is not a normal part of ageing and should not be accepted as so. Older adults are just as likely as younger adults to benefit from all depression treatments including talking therapies, so it’s important that they are supported in accessing these services.”

Denise Charlton, Chief Executive of Community Foundation Ireland added: “As a philanthropic hub on an equality mission we believe in empowering generations, that means every voice is listened to and respected – irrespective of age. There are many reasons why this research is deeply concerning and must be acted upon. We are proud to partner with Aware, the participants in the survey and older people to highlight the issues they face, to identify solutions and to implement them.”

The research also considered respondents’ perception of loneliness and social isolation as key indicators of mental wellbeing. The survey results indicated that approximately one third of older adults feel they are lacking companionship (35 percent), feel lonely (31 per cent) or isolated from others (33 per cent) and feel left out often or sometimes (34 per cent). Feelings of loneliness and isolation were higher amongst those not in a relationship, living alone or with a chronic illness.

Perception of loneliness and social isolation correlated with symptoms of depression and anxiety with approximately two thirds also scoring within the range for mild to moderate levels of both conditions.

ALONE, the national organisation that enables older people to age at home welcomed the research.

Seán Moynihan, CEO at ALONE said: “While the national dialogue around mental health has opened up significantly in recent years, this has not always extended to the mental health of older people. ALONE has consistently seen high levels of loneliness and social isolation among the older people we work with across Ireland.  Aware’s research shows that one in three older people are experiencing depression, and yet just three out of 100 recommendations under Sharing the Vision relate specifically to older people, and no Specialist Group to oversee these actions has been established by the National Implementation and Monitoring Committee (NIMC) for this policy. We hope that this research encourages older people to speak up about their mental health. We recognise the issues that younger people are facing and now we need to support a national conversation about mental health in older age. We can see that mental health issues do not discriminate by age.”

Feelings are mixed in relation to proactively seeking professional support for mental health. Nearly 4 in 10 (38 per cent) agree they would feel okay about themselves if they decided to seek help. However, 34 per cent disagreed with this statement and 1 in 10 (11 per cent) admitted they would be ashamed to have a mental health difficulty. 16 per cent have accessed professional support and 5 percent said they wanted to but didn’t. Those living alone (24 per cent) and scoring mild to moderate on the PHQ-2 scale (28 per cent) are more likely to have sought help.

When asked about their general health, the majority of older adults surveyed indicated that their health was excellent (11 percent) or very good/good (66 per cent). Those most likely to rate their health as fair or poor are those living with a chronic illness or exhibiting mild to moderate levels of depression or anxiety. A majority would rate their quality of life as good or very good (77 per cent) and only a minority (3 per cent) rated their quality of life as bad or very bad. Positively, almost 9 in 10 (88 per cent) feel healthy enough to get out and about. Respondents also felt they are adaptable and resilient with the majority (82 per cent) agreeing that they are able to adapt when changes occur and saying that they can bounce back after illness, injury or other hardships (86 per cent).

Reflecting on the survey results, Dr Brannick concluded: “It is heartening to see from this sample that many older adults are living well in these years and feeling resilient to manage challenges. However, a significant proportion of our sample do report feeling lonely and isolated and this will impact on their mental health. As well as linking people in with health supports, if and as they need it, it’s incumbent on us all to consider how to build a more inclusive and connected society that leaves no one of any age behind.”

In response to the research findings, Aware is offering a free Life Skills Programme for Older Adults, specifically designed to meet the needs of this cohort. The programme will help participants to learn more about their mental health, build resilience and inner confidence, and learn skills and tools to manage stress and the challenges of everyday life in older age. Registration is now open with virtual (via Zoom) and Dubin based in-person programmes starting from 8th July.

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