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Many adults developed depression for the first time in 2020

A new study from the University of Toronto has revealed that one in eight older adults developed depression for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among individuals who had experienced depression in the past, the outcome was even more shocking. By the fall of 2020, nearly half of people with a history of depression had relapsed. 

“We hope our findings can help health and social work professionals improve targeted screening and outreach to identify and serve older adults most at risk for depression,” said study first author Andie MacNeil.

“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.” 

Many studies have confirmed the widespread prevalence of depression among older adults during the pandemic, but few have investigated the percentage of people who relapsed or experienced depressive symptoms for the very first time. 

“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. “Health professionals need to be vigilant in screening their patients who had mental health problems at an earlier time in their life.”

According to the experts, factors that were frequently associated with depression in the fall of 2020 included inadequate income and savings, loneliness, chronic pain, trouble accessing healthcare, a history of adverse childhood experiences, and family conflict.

Feelings of loneliness, isolation, and a lack of companionship increased the risk of depression by four to five times. 

“It is not surprising that the lock-down was particularly difficult for older adults who were isolated and lonely during the pandemic,” explained study co-author Ying Jiang. “Social connections and social support are essential for well-being and mental health. Better support and outreach are needed for those who are isolated.”

The research is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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