A recent large-scale study involving more than 20,000 people found that one in eight older adults in Canada experienced depression for the first time during the pandemic. The numbers for those who had already experienced depression were noticeably worse. By the autumn of 2020, over half (45%) of this group said they had depression.
About the Study
The research team from the University of Toronto analysed responses from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Ageing, which collected data from participants for an average of seven years.
The first author of the study, Andie MacNeil, University of Toronto stated that the significant mental health toll that the pandemic inflicted on a formerly mentally healthy group of older adults is highlighted by the high rate of first-onset depression in 2020.
Few studies have looked at the percentage of people who developed the disorder for the first time or the percentage of people with a history of the condition who experienced a relapse, even though it is well-known that depression among older adults increased during the pandemic, noted the study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
The co-author of the study, Sapriya Birk added that the pandemic “hit those with a history of depression particularly hard.”
Findings of the Study
The researchers noted that depression in older adults during the pandemic was associated with several factors. This includes low income and savings, chronic pain, difficulty accessing healthcare, loneliness, a history of traumatic childhood experiences, and family conflict.
Before the pandemic, people who felt their income was not sufficient to meet their basic needs and those with fewer savings were more prone to experience depression during the pandemic.
Another co-author of the study, Margaret de Groh draws attention to the disproportionate impact on mental health that those with low socioeconomic levels experienced throughout the epidemic. The pandemic's economic precarity may have made many of these socioeconomic risk factors worse, especially for those with fewer means.
Adults who experienced various extents of loneliness like feeling isolated, feeling left out, and lacking companionship had nearly four to five times higher risk of developing both incident and recurrent depression.
The study further noted that older people who had trouble accessing healthcare, medications, or treatment were more likely to be depressed during the autumn of 2020.
The research findings underline the importance of streamlining service provision to ensure less disruption of medical services in case of future pandemics, stated Professor Paul J. Villeneuve, co-author of the study.
People who had experienced adversity as children were more likely to experience depression during the autumn of 2020. In comparison to their peers who did not experience family conflict during the pandemic, older adults who did had a more than threefold increased risk of developing depression.
According to senior author, Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson, family conflict can be a major stressor that can impact mental health. During the lockdown and the stress of the pandemic, family relationships experienced considerable strain. The conflict that followed posed a serious risk of developing depression, the senior author noted.
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