Moult, A, Kingstone, T and Chew-Graham, CA (2020) How do older adults understand and manage distress? A qualitative study. BMC Family Practice, 21 (1). -. ISSN 1471-2296

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BACKGROUND: Distress is an expected emotional response to a negative life event. Experiences common in later life may trigger distress such as bereavement or loss of physical mobility. Distress is considered to be distinct to anxiety and/or depression and is not diagnostically labelled as a mental health problem. Older adults will often manage their own distress. Previous literature has focused on how younger adults self-manage mental health problems, however little research has explored the self-management strategies used by older people. There is a need to clarify the role of primary care in the context of distressed older adults who may consult healthcare services. This study seeks to address these gaps through qualitative methods. METHODS: Keele University's ethical review panel approved this study. We recruited older adults who self-identified as distressed from community groups in North Staffordshire, England. Data were generated through semi-structured interviews and analysed thematically using constant comparison methods. A patient and public involvement and engagement group contributed to development of the research questions and methods, and offered their perspectives on the findings. RESULTS: After 18 interviews data saturation was achieved. Key themes were: experiences of distress, actions taken, help-seeking from healthcare services and perceptions of treatments offered in primary care. Various forms of loss contributed to participants' distress. Participants initiated their own self-management strategies which included: pursuing independent activities, seeking social support and attending community groups and church. Five participants reported having consulted a GP when distressed but described a lack of acceptable treatments offered. CONCLUSIONS: To support older adults who are distressed, healthcare professionals in primary care should consider exploring how patients currently manage their mood problems, provide a broad range of information about potential management options and consider sign-posting older adults to community resources.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Older adults; Distress; Self-management; General practitioner; Primary care; Mental health
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HA Statistics
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Divisions: Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > School of Primary, Community and Social Care
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Symplectic
Date Deposited: 13 May 2020 08:05
Last Modified: 29 May 2020 08:42

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