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Club-funded survey reveals common myths about elderly depression

Depression is a common disorder in old age. Stress, health problems and a lack of social engagement are among factors that can contribute to the vulnerability of older people and cause higher risks of elderly depression or other major illness.

To help address this challenge, the Club’s Charities Trust has donated over HK$87 million to initiate the three-year JC JoyAge: Jockey Club Holistic Support Project for Elderly Mental Wellness, bringing together The University of Hong Kong and six NGOs in a cross-sector collaboration to enhance elderly people’s resiliency in facing the challenges of ageing.

Part of the initiative involves commissioning the University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme to conduct a community-wide random telephone survey, for the purpose of understanding the public’s awareness and attitude towards elderly depression.

The survey was conducted in August and September 2017, covering 1,332 Hong Kong residents aged 20 or above. It found that 52% of participants estimated that at least 10% of older people were depressed. Among them, half gave an estimate of over 30%, indicating that the public were aware of the prevalence of elderly depression. More than 80% of respondents said they were willing to help emotionally-distressed elderly relatives or neighbours.

The survey also found there were three common myths about elderly depression among Hong Kong people, namely:

1)  Elderly depression is normal’ – Half of the respondents were uncertain whether or not depression was a normal reaction to ageing. Some 40% believed that most older people who talked about committing suicide were not serious. These findings show that the public tend to normalise elderly depression, hence more public education is needed.

2)  Elderly depression is easy to detect’ – Some 70% of participants believed that depression was easy to recognise in an elderly person who was physically ill. Opinion was divided (agree 52%; uncertain 48%) on whether memory problems were a sign of depression. These figures show that members of the public are not widely aware of how to identify elderly people with depressive symptoms.

3)  Remind older people about their blessings’  – Regarding methods of handling elderly depression, 75% of respondents misunderstood that they could help depressed elderly people by telling them to ‘count their blessings’ or ‘look on the bright side’.

People generally associate ageing with negative images such as downheartedness, solitude and hopelessness, which easily normalises the phenomenon of elderly depression. Despite the physiological causes of elderly depression, psychosocial factors such as solitude and loneliness are also worth the public’s attention because everyone in society can help change that situation.

Since October last year, the JC JoyAge project has been implemented in four pilot areas, namely Kwun Tong, Kwai Chung, Tseung Kwan O and Sham Shui Po. In each of these areas, an Integrated Community Centre for Mental Wellness is partnering with a District Elderly Community Centre or an Integrated Home Care Service to provide holistic support to older people at risk or having mild to moderate depression.

In addition, over 130 elderly ‘Peer Supporters’ have been recruited and received 100 hours’ training overall with practicum. More than 2,300 engagement sessions have also been conducted to reach nearly 150 depressed or at-risk elderly people in the community.

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