Predicting development and treatment of common mental disorders in older adults

Anxiety and Depression in Older People PhD Scholarship 2019: School of Psychology, University of Sussex

Supervisor: Dr Darya Gaysina, Dr Clara Strauss, Dr Nick Grey

Summary: One in five older adults is affected with depression and/or anxiety and needs professional help. Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services are open to all adults, however very fewer older adults access it, and only half of those who receive treatment get better. Because our population is getting older, we urgently need to know who are at a higher risk of depression and anxiety in late adulthood, and how to develop effective treatments for everyone. This PhD project will identify predictors of depression and anxiety, and outcomes of psychological treatments, in older adults. To achieve this, two complementary approaches will be used. First, the project will develop a new prediction model for depression and anxiety using data from the oldest British birth cohort that follows >5000 men and women born in Britain in 1946 through their entire life (up to age 69). Second, the project will test whether tools to identify the risk of depression and anxiety could be used to predict who will benefit most from psychological treatments offered by the IAPT service. Findings of the project will have important implications for developing more effective preventions and treatments against depression and anxiety in late life.

Research Student Student:  Alexandra Schmidt

Hello, I’m Ali and I’m due to start my PhD at the University of Sussex in September 2019.

Following a successful professional career in Finance, I completed an Access to Higher Education Diploma in Psychology from City College Brighton & Hove. During this time, I also volunteered at a day centre for people living with a personality disorder.

I have recently completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Sussex, where I graduated with a first class honours. For my dissertation, I investigated the effects of lifetime physical activity on cognitive function and mental health in midlife.

I have gained research experience as a Junior Research Assistant programme at the University of Sussex during which I looked at the association between physical activity and depressive symptoms for individuals having had adverse childhood experiences. I presented my findings in poster exhibitions and a national conference. I further volunteered as a Research Assistant supporting a study looking at the association between sleep and cognitive function in older adults.

Depression and anxiety are highly prevalent in older people and are often viewed as normal part of growing old. Volunteering as a befriender for elderly people I have experienced the effects of social isolation, which is one of the contributors to depression in older life and I am therefore eager to start my research into the predictors for development and treatment of depression and anxiety in older people.

I look forward to working with Dr Darya Gaysina, Dr Nick Grey and Dr Clara Strauss and am very grateful to Mental Health Research UK for this fantastic opportunity.