Sudbury

How lived experience could help us better understand mental health challenges facing older adults

How can lived experience help us learn more about older adults dealing with mental health challenges? The Northern Initiative for Social Action (NISA) is hoping to find out in a new research project.

'My hope is that from this we can see some action on the issues concerning them'

'This population are people who've often had people observe them and write about them but without, you know, actually including them in that,' says Andréa Desjardins, a program co-ordinator with the Northern Initiative for Social Action in Sudbury. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

The Northern Initiative for Social Action (NISA) is conducting new research on mental health challenges facing older adults.

Participants who are selected will not only take part as subjects of the research but will also help conduct it, said Andréa Desjardins, a program co-ordinator with the organization.

Desjardins adds that the lived experience of the research participants will play a key role in the work.  

"This population are people who've often had people observe them and write about them but without, you know, actually including them in that," she said.

'Real talk'

"What I'm hoping is that we'll have some real talk, get to the heart of what issues are there. But also, the other part of this is action, so my hope is that from this we can see some action on the issues concerning them."

So far, Desjardins said the organization has had about nine people aged 55 and older express interest in taking part, but they're looking for up to 12. Participants will meet regularly, likely in a virtual setting, in order to adhere to health protocols. 

By including the participants in guiding the research, she said, they will likely be more open to sharing the realities of their lives.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and people are forced to stay at home in Ontario due to provincial health restrictions, research on mental health is urgently needed. 

Isolation and loneliness

"Especially with this population," she said, "We already knew that isolation and loneliness were a concern and something that people were seeing among older adults. And I think them being the most restricted people ... being the most high-risk population, [they are] are probably experiencing that even more so with COVID-19." 

"I'm anticipating that a lot of the issues that will come to light will probably be around what people have experienced over the last, almost year now." 

The research is part of a larger three-year pilot program that is working to create a peer support network for older adults within the community.

Due to COVID-19 and current restrictions, Desjardins said it's difficult to say when the research will be complete but she's hoping within a few months.

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