Dealing with depression can be hard even in the best of times, so doctors have been closely following patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic who suffer from depressive symptoms. What they found surprised them.
Researchers from five institutions, including UCLA, found that older adults exhibited resilience to the stress of physical distancing and isolation during the pandemic. Published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, the results were shown from interviews conducted on participants of the study examining the effect of the pandemic on people with depression.
The study included participants who were over the age of 60, with an average age of 69. Using two screen assessments of anxiety and depression, PHQ-9 and PROMIS, researchers found no changes in participants during the pandemic. They did not exhibit any worsening depression, anxiety, or suicidality scores before or during the isolation brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We thought they would be more vulnerable to the stress of COVID because they are, by CDC definition, the most vulnerable population,” said Helen Lavretsky, MD, a professor-in-residence of psychiatry and biobehavioral. “But what we learned is that older adults with depression can be resilient. They told us that coping with chronic depression taught them to be resilient”
Overall, participants said that they were more concerned about the risk of contracting the virus than the risk of isolation. They did not feel socially isolated, and they used technology to connect with friends and family.
Many self-care and coping strategies used by the participants were identified in the study. Some of these included maintaining regular schedules, distancing themselves from negative emotions with hobbies, work, exercise, chores, and using mindfulness to focus on immediate surroundings and needs without thinking into the future.
Policy Changes Needed
Overall, the findings of the study were positive for older adults with depression, but there were a few policies and interventions that could be changed to help people who are suffering from depression. Many participants said that although they were coping, their quality of life was lower, and they did worry about their mental health if physical distancing continued. Participants also expressed their overall disapproval of government response to the pandemic and felt that there were not enough resources available to help those who may be suffering.
Based on these findings, if the pandemic continues, researchers suggest that policies and interventions which can provide access to medical services and opportunities for social interaction are needed for older adults who suffer from depressive disorders.
Lavretsky added that the findings offer takeaways for others while weathering the pandemic. “These older persons living with depression have been under stress for a longer time than many of the rest of us. We could draw upon their resilience and learn from it.”