Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Family Consumer Human Development

Committee Chair(s)

Thorana S. Nelson, Maria C. Norton


Thorana S. Nelson


Maria C. Norton


Geriatric depression reduces older adults' quality of life, yet few will seek formal help. Older adults often seek help for emotional distress from informal helpers, which appears to have a therapeutic benefit for them. This qualitative study was designed to investigate older adults' perceptions of helping relationships that they used when faced with emotional difficulties or concerns, characteristics that facilitated their approaching helpers, and what they perceived as helpful in those relationships. This study also looked at older adults ' perceptions of professional mental health practitioners and barriers to seeking help.

Semistructured qualitative interviews were conducted with 8 older adults between the ages of 78-91 , all of whom were participants of the Cache County Study on Memory, Health, and Aging. All participants had been identified in previous interviews as depressed according to study criteria. The interviews took place in the participants' homes and the participants were asked about their experience seeking help with emotional difficulties or concerns.

Participants in this study reported using informal helpers (e .g., family and friends) more than formal helpers. Characteristics of those from whom help was sought were consistent with the literature on the therapeutic helping alliance, and included understanding, caring, trust, acceptance, and availability. Behaviors that were found to be helpful included listening, problem solving, normalizing, and understanding. Older adults generally did not trust or have confidence in professional helpers. Overall, the participants preferred working through emotional concerns on their own or with the help of family and friends. This study supports the literature concerning older adults' use of social support networks for emotional support and provides suggestions for both informal and formal helpers as well as implications for policy and research.