Older Adults and Mental Health by Rachel Weldrick

Published: Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Gilbrea Travel Award winner Rachel Weldrick discusses mental health issues in later life.

As always, I was excited to attend this year’s annual meeting of the Canadian Association on Gerontology (CAG). I have been a student member of the CAG for four years, and have attended as many annuals meetings since 2014. Each year I look forward to meeting with like-minded students and academics, and learning about the wide array of gerontological research that is occurring across Canada and beyond. Since 2014, I have also become a Student Representative with the CAG, proudly representing McMaster with the CAG Student Connection.

This year I was particularly intrigued by a session entitled, “Older Adults and Mental Health”. Naturally, this session piqued my interest as a mental health researcher because this title involves a surprisingly rare combination of words. All too often we have conversations about mental health that exclude mental health in later life. Simultaneously, our conversations about late life “mental health” often remain tightly focused on neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

The session included a variety of oral presentations on several topics. Denise Waligora began the session with an engaging overview of the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s new Mental Health First Aid for Seniors training program. Sadaf Saleem Murad (University of Alberta) presented a systematic review of suicide prevention programs for older people. Norma Gilbert (Centre of Research and Expertise in Social Gerontology, Canada) showcased a program called Count Me In! – a workshop aimed at promoting mental health well-being among older people. Delphine Roulet Schwab and Cécilia Bovet (Institut et Haute Ecole de la Santé La Source, Switzerland) then provided a fascinating look at a project involving anti-ageism documentaries. Lastly, Olga Strizhitskaya (Saint-Petersburg State University, Russia) discussed her research on cognitive functioning and mental well-being among older people.

The session was very informative and covered an impressive range of issues in a single hour. As a social researcher, I was happy to see that several of the presenters highlighted importance issues pertaining to late life mental health and marginalized populations.  In particular, Denise Waligora’s critical look at late life mental health crises also included an important discussion of the different groups of older people who experience mental health concerns in later life (e.g. chronic/recurring; new mental health concerns in late life; symptoms of dementia; medical conditions with mental health symptoms), highlighting the need to consider life course trajectories and disadvantage. I was thrilled to see an emphasis on the life course.  Overall, I was happy to see a dedicated session to mental health in later life at this year’s conference, and I hope to see continued discussions at future meetings.

Thank you very much to the following organizations for supporting my work and my trip to Winnipeg to attend this year’s conference: the Department of Health, Aging & Society at McMaster University; the Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging; the CAG Legacy Fund; and the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.

“Older Adults and Mental Health”: Oral Session. Friday October 20, 2017.