The social and mental health strand explores the relationship between loneliness, social isolation and various indices of physical and psychological wellbeing. The aim is to understand how social engagement and support can mediate health outcomes and reduce risks of loneliness and depression in older adults. Quantitative and qualitative approaches are used to understand the problems and develop effective interventions.
A mixed method approach
Statistical approach: Data analysis of TRIL Clinic data explores the relationships between biological, psychological and social factors related to social and mental health. This helps understand how loneliness and depression impact physical and psychological wellbeing. For example, one study showed that mobility and social isolation were the strongest predictors for abnormal nutritional status.
Ethnographic approach: Home visit interviews were conducted to understand problems in real life contexts. This research helped generate ideas for potential interventions. For example, the Building Bridges project explored how a technology could be developed to encourage peer-to-peer social engagement. Interviews and focus groups with potential users revealed the importance of providing opportunistic social interaction and the need for ‘common ground’ among users. This led to the development of the Building Bridges device. This touch screen telephone allows users to listen to daily ‘broadcasts’ (e.g. news, documentaries,) and then have a group chat (see Building Bridges for more details).
Current research activities
Some examples of projects currently ongoing within the Social and Mental Health strand include:
• Definitions of loneliness: Exploring the distinction between ‘social’ and ‘emotional’ loneliness through statistical models. Social loneliness refers to an absence of social contact. Emotional loneliness relates to satisfaction with existing opportunities to socialise. This analysis will help customise interventions towards different types of loneliness.
• Bio-psycho-social correlates of sleep: A study looking at how sleep disturbances relate to mental and physical health. This will provide further insight into the role of sleep for cognitive functioning, as well as social and emotional wellbeing.
• Psychological distress: Developing a brief screening tool for ‘psychological distress’, which refers to a negative emotional state that can affect daily living.
• Perceived Health: A study explores the psychological and personality factors that influence how older adults’ rate their own health status.
• Teleconferencing for caregivers: Exploring how social engagement through telephone conferencing can be used to reduce risks of loneliness and isolation among caregivers of people with dementia.