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Depression in Elders: Social Factors Research Paper


Depression is considered to be one of the most common mental health disorders in Canada today. Around 10% of elderly people in Canada are suffering from depression that is dangerous to their health and well-being. That number increases to 30 to 40% for the elderly persons who are kept in various governmental facilities (Depression in the elderly, 2010). It is a popular opinion that depression primarily affects teenagers and war veterans, but one of the largest and arguably most overlooked groups suffering from depression is the elderly.

A stereotype exists that presents the elderly as wizened people with firm control over their thoughts and emotions (Cox, Abramson, Devine, & Hollon, 2012). However, age also brings a multitude of problems and disabilities that are often enough to cause depression. This paper is dedicated to the research and analysis of social factors that commonly affect depression in the elderly, such as cultural backgrounds, the inability to participate in social activities, disconnection from family, general loneliness, a lack of social support, and personal perceptions about themselves in regards to their physical disabilities.

What Is Depression and Why Is It Dangerous?

Depression is a major psychiatric illness characterized by sadness and feelings of hopelessness. It is often followed by physiological reactions like the inability to sleep and lack of appetite (Dillon, Rodriguez, & Taragano, 2014). In certain situations, the depressed individual might also experience suicidal tendencies. Among elderly people, this disorder is very widespread. Depression is especially dangerous to them because it can have a very detrimental effect on their already-ailing and fragile health (Ylli et al., 2016).

According to a study conducted by the Canadian Mental Health Association, elderly people commit around 17% of the country’s total number of suicides (Suicides and suicide rate, 2015). The problem with depression in elders is that they very rarely seek help from counselors or healthcare providers. In fact, around 90% of all cases of depression among aged persons go unreported (Healthcare in Canada, 2011). The assistance and counseling programs available to them are thus rendered ineffective. In the majority of the cases when elderly people do seek help for depression, it is done because of concerned relatives or healthcare monitoring.

Causes of Depression in Elders

Psychological studies outline several prevalent factors that influence depression in elders. These factors include the following:

  • Cultural background. Different cultures have different perspectives on depression and whether or not it should be treated. Eastern and Western cultures have very different viewpoints on this matter. For example, it is normal in Western society to seek out medical help when facing psychological problems; in Japan, however, one would be hard-pressed to find an elder willing to admit to experiencing depression, as such ailments are frowned upon (Nemade, Reiss, & Dombeck, 2007).
  • Inability to participate in social activities. As a rule, old age greatly limits the physical capabilities of a person. Oftentimes, it takes great effort for an old person to even leave the house and go for an hour-long walk in the park. The inability to move freely and participate in social activities as they could previously is one of the possible causes of depression in elders (Cruwys, Haslam, A., Dingle, Haslam, C., & Jetten, 2014).
  • Disconnection from family. Some elderly people are placed in care institutions by their own families, while others simply live too far away. Being disconnected from family members leads to loneliness and is one of the major reasons for depressive disorders among elders (Rehan & Steffens, 2013).
  • General loneliness. This factor is connected to the previous issue. Aside from voluntary or involuntary isolation from family, a feeling of perpetual loneliness often follows the elderly wherever they go (Dickens, Richards, Greaves, & Campbell, 2011). Old friends and companions die, and social ties weaken and vanish with no new ones to replace them. Not having someone to connect with is a big issue for many elders (Rajendra & Ramegowda, 2014).
  • Lack of social support. In some cases, elderly people simply do not have anywhere to go to with their problems. This is a particularly pressing issue in rural communities. Preemptive care and visiting nurses are uncommon, meaning that healthcare agencies have to rely on the patients to request help on their own. For various reasons, this does not happen often (Kvaal, Halding, & Kvigne, 2013).
  • Personal perceptions about themselves. As people become older, physical and social skills slowly atrophy. A lack of attention from others often leads elderly people to believe they are defective and incapable in one way or another. They start seeing themselves as a burden to their family and their friends, which often leads to self-imposed isolation from society and a severe case of depression (Apesoa-Varano, Barker, & Hinton, 2015).

As can be seen, many of the causes of depression in elders are intertwined in one way or another. Many of these factors take root in both social isolation and neglect.


When it comes to psychological disorders and depression, elderly people represent one of the most vulnerable age groups. While Canadian medical associations make an effort to extend medical services and professional counseling to all (Markle-Reid, Browne, & Gafni, 2011), they do not have enough resources to reach or provide for every single family. The responsibility of looking after elderly family members belongs to their families and their children. In order to prevent cases of depression, elders must not be excluded from the rest of the family or from society at large. In addition, families must educate themselves on how to recognize the symptoms of depression in elders in order to be able to react in time.


Apesoa-Varano, E.C., Barker, J.C., & Hinton, L. (2015). Shards of sorrow: Older men’s accounts of their depression experience. Social Science and Medicine, 124, 1-8.

Cox, W.T.L., Abramson, L.Y., Devine, P.G., & Hollon, S.D. (2012). Stereotypes, prejudice, and depression. The integrated perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(5), 427-449.

Cruwys, T., Haslam, A.S., Dingle, G.A., Haslam, C., & Jetten, J. (2014). Depression and social identity. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 18(3), 215-238.

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Dillon, C., Rodriguez, C., & Taragano, E.F. (2014). Late life depression: A diagnostic and pharmacological review. Current Psychopharmacology, 3(1), 32-41.

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Kvaal, K., Halding, A.G., & Kvigne, K. (2013). Social provision and loneliness among older people suffering from chronic physical illness. A mixed-methods approach. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 28(1), 104-111.

Markle-Reid, M., Browne, G., & Gafni, A. (2011). Nurse-led health promotion interventions improve quality of life in frail older home care clients: lessons learned from three randomized trials in Ontario, Canada. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, 19(1), 118-131. Web.

Nemade, R., Reiss, N.S., & Dombeck, M. (2007). Sociology of depression – effects of culture. Web.

Rajendra, K., & Ramegowda, B. (2014). A Sociological study on the prevalence of depression among elderly. Journal of Humanities And Social Science, 19(1), 26-28.

Rehan, A., & Steffens, D.C. (2013). What are the causes of late-life depression? Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 36(4), 497-516.

Suicides and suicide rate, by sex and by age group. (2015). Web.

Ylli, A., Miszkurka, M., Phillips, S.P., Guralnik, J., Deshpande, N., & Zunzunegui, M.V. (2016). Clinically relevant depression in old age: An international study with populations from Canada, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Psychiatry Research, 241, 236-241

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Depression in Elders: Social Factors'. 3 October.

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