A recent, large-scale study of more than 20,000 older adults in Canada found that about 1 in 8 older adults developed depression for the first time during the pandemic.
For those who have experienced depression in the past, the numbers were even worse. By the fall of 2020, almost half (45%) of this group reported being depressed.
The research, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, analyzed responses from the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging, which collected data from participants for an average of seven years.
«The high rate of depression that began for the first time in 2020 highlights the significant mental health toll the pandemic has posed in a group of previously mentally healthy older adults.» The first author, Andie MacNeil, is a recent graduate of the Factor-Inwentash School of Social Work (FIFSW) and the University of Toronto Life Course and Institute on Aging.
Although the increase in the prevalence of depression among older adults during the pandemic is well known, several previous studies have defined the percentage of people who experience it for the first time, or people with a history of the disorder, who experience a relapse. .
«The devastation of the pandemic, which has upended so many aspects of daily life, has hit those with a history of depression particularly hard,» said co-author Sapriya Birk, formerly a researcher and formerly a researcher in the Department of Neuroscience at Carleton University in Ottawa. Medical student at McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada. «Health professionals need to be vigilant about screening their patients with mental health problems early in life.»
Researchers identified several factors associated with depression among older adults during the pandemic, including insufficient income and savings, loneliness, chronic pain, trouble accessing healthcare, negative childhood experiences, and family conflict.
Older adults and those with less savings who felt their income was insufficient to meet their basic needs before the pandemic were more likely to develop depression during the pandemic.
“These findings underscore the disproportionate mental health burden carried by individuals of low socioeconomic status during the pandemic. Many of these socioeconomic risk factors may have been exacerbated by the economic insecurity of the pandemic, especially for individuals with fewer resources, said Margaret de Groh, Scientific Director of Public Health Canada.
Individuals who experienced various aspects of loneliness, such as feeling excluded, feeling lonely, and lack of friends, had an approximately 4 to 5 times higher risk of both event and recurrent depression.
It’s no surprise that quarantine is particularly difficult for older adults who are isolated and alone during the pandemic. Social connections and social support are essential for well-being and mental health. Better support and access is needed for those who are isolated, says Ying Jiang, Senior Epidemiologist at Public Health Canada.
Older adults with chronic pain and those who had trouble accessing usual health care, medication, or treatment were more likely to become depressed in the fall of 2020.
«This finding highlights the importance of streamlining service delivery to ensure fewer disruptions to medical services when future outbreaks occur,» says co-author Professor Paul J. Villeneuve, of the Department of Neuroscience at Carleton University, Canada.
Individuals with a history of childhood distress were more likely to be depressed in Fall 2020. Older adults who experienced family conflict during the pandemic had more than three times the risk of depression compared to their peers who did not.
“Family conflict is a major source of stress that can affect mental health even at the best of times. With the forced close distances and the stress of the pandemic, significant strain has been placed on many family relationships. The conflict that followed was a huge risk for depression,” said senior author Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson of the University of Toronto FIFSW and director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging.
The study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The study included 22,622 participants from the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging (CLSA), which provided data for the baseline wave (2011–2015), follow-up wave 1 (2015–2018), and during the pandemic (September–December 2020). The impact of the pandemic on depression among older Canadians may be greater than observed because the vulnerable population is underrepresented in the CLSA.
«We hope our findings will help health and social workers improve targeted screening and outreach to identify and serve older adults at highest risk for depression,» said Andie MacNeil.
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