Carolyn Szostak is Associate Professor in the UBC Okanagan Department of Psychology who has spent years studying rural mental heath. (Submitted photo/Lakes District News)

Carolyn Szostak is Associate Professor in the UBC Okanagan Department of Psychology who has spent years studying rural mental heath. (Submitted photo/Lakes District News)

Study on mental health of rural seniors in B.C.

Looking at support systems around individuals who suffer from mental health concerns

Carolyn Szostak, associate professor in the UBC Okanagan Department of Psychology, is conducting a province-wide study to better understand the support systems surrounding rural senior citizens with mental health concerns. Mental health concerns could be categorized as symptoms of depression, anxiety or problems with drug and alcohol abuse.

“I’ve been working in the area of rural mental health for a number of years trying to get more of a sense of what it’s like in the rural community especially when you’re older. What do we know about social circles in these communities is that when someone is well connected it boosts one’s well being,” Szostak told Lakes District News.

The study aims to understand the social networks of adults over 50 with mental health concerns in rural B.C. “Our ultimate goal is to develop a program that is directed to the friends and family of an individual 50 years or older with a mental health concern, and who lives in a rural community. This program would be geared to addressing the needs and difficulties that people who provide the support experience and also the needs identified by the person with a mental health concern,” Szostak said.

”The program will be skill-focused. For example, it may include some information on communication skills, stress management, and promote better understanding of mental health concerns and the associated stigma. We are hoping that the current study will help us to determine what would be most helpful.”

The rural context is an important piece to this study, as Szostak says that there are significant differences for seniors who live in rural areas as opposed to urban centres. Seniors in a rural setting are much more susceptible to loneliness, and being cut off from a social life, which makes the need for a solid support system that much more important.

According to Szostak, the idea for the study came from former graduate student Carley Paterson, who interviewed nine adults who were in support systems of loved ones with mental health concerns for masters thesis last year. “We took that idea and essentially flipped it around, to now gather information from the people who have mental health concerns,” said Szostak.

Paterson is still involved with the research.

Lakes District News asked Szostak if she thinks mental health concerns for seniors have been made worse by the pandemic, but oddly enough it hasn’t had as much of an impact as one might think. “A lot of the research in terms of the impact of the pandemic with older adults actually suggests that their well being hasn’t been effected as much as younger adults. Though there definitely is less comfort among seniors with the current social reliance on technology to interact with others,” she said.

Ultimately, the program that Szostak hopes to work towards will, in theory, help to promote the well being of both the person who provides support but also the person with a mental health concern. If you’re 50 years of age with mental health concerns and are living in a rural area, and would like to participate in this study, visit https://ubc.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_dnemK0B5YGF2Zme or contact Kendra Corman at kmcorman@mail.ubc.ca.