Thousands of Canadians experienced depression for the first time during the pandemic, study suggests

A new study suggests that around one in eight older Canadian adults experienced depression for the first time during the pandemic.

The results of a survey of more than 20,000 Canadian adults aged 50 and up, were published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, and identified quantitative data that shows prevalent surges in depression for older adults with no previous mental health issues.

Andie MacNeil, a researcher with University of Toronto and author of the study, said in a press release Thursday that this high rate of first-onset depression “highlights the substantial mental health toll that the pandemic caused in a formerly mentally healthy group of older adults.”

The study determined numerous factors that were correlated with mental health decline among older adults during the pandemic — including financial struggles, a sense of loneliness and isolation, and family conflict.

Researchers also evaluated survey participants with a track record of mental health decline, finding almost half (45 per cent) of the group reporting a state of depression by autumn of 2020.

Sapirya Birk, another co-author of the study and a researcher with Carleton University, sees how the pandemic particularly impacted people who had a history of depression – and what this data should mean for health-care screening and mental health resources.

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

On top of identifying a rampant uptick in depression cases throughout the country, the data also determined demographic susceptibilities for mental health decline amidst individuals with low socioeconomic status.

Canadian seniors with chronic pain who faced difficulties accessing usual treatments, medication or health-care services were more likely to face depression in autumn of 2020.

The research also indicated that adults who endured family conflict during the COVID-19 outbreak were three times more likely of developing depression compared to those who did not.

“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,” MacNeil said.

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