Toronto: A new, large-scale study of more than 20,000 older adults has found that approximately 1 in 8 older adults developed depression for the first time during the pandemic.
For those who had experienced depression in the past, the numbers were even worse. By the autumn of 2020, almost half (45 per cent) of this group reported being depressed, according to the study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
“The high rate of first-onset depression in 2020 highlights the substantial mental health toll that the pandemic caused in a formerly mentally healthy group of older adults,” said Andie MacNeil from the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW) and the Institute for Life Course and Aging, University of Toronto.
While the surge in prevalence of depression among older adults during the pandemic is well known, few studies prior to this have identified the percentage of people who experienced it for the first time or the percentage of people with a history of the disorder who experienced a relapse.
“The devastation of the pandemic which upended so many aspects of daily life hit those with a history of depression particularly hard,” said study co-author Sapriya Birk, currently a medical student at McMaster University in Canada.
The researchers identified several factors that were associated with depression among older adults during the pandemic, including inadequate income and savings, loneliness, chronic pain, trouble accessing healthcare, a history of adverse childhood experiences, and family conflict.
Individuals who experienced various dimensions of loneliness, such as feeling left out, feeling isolated, and lacking companionship had approximately 4 to 5 times higher risk of both incident and recurrent depression.
“Social connections and social support are essential for well-being and mental health. Better support and outreach are needed for those who are isolated,” said co-author Ying Jiang, Senior Epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Individuals with a childhood history of adversity were more likely to be depressed during the autumn of 2020. Older adults who experienced family conflict during the pandemic had more than triple the risk of depression compared to their peers who did not, said the researchers.