Lockdown loneliness increases depressive symptoms among the older 50s, a large study has shown.
A trial involving more than 3,000 people has shown that the pandemic has significantly increased mental health issues.
A sharp decrease in physical exercise has also had an impact, researchers from the University of Exeter and King’s College London say.
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Lead researcher Dr Byron Creese, from the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Even before the pandemic, loneliness and physical activity levels were a huge issue in society, particularly among older people.
“Our study enabled us to compare mental health symptoms before and after COVID-19 in a large group of people aged 50 and over. We found that during lockdown, loneliness and decreased physical activity were associated with more symptoms of poor mental health, especially depression.
“It’s now crucial that we build on this data to find new ways to mitigate risk of worsening mental health during the pandemic.”
Before the pandemic, people who admitted they were lonely would report an average of two depressive symptoms for a few days over a period of two weeks.
However, lockdown increased the frequency of the depressive feelings to more than seven days during the same two-week time frame.
Dr Zunera Khan, Research Portfolio Lead at Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience said “We’ve found links between loneliness and a drop in physical exercise and worsening mental health symptoms. It should be within our power to find ways of keeping people socially engaged and active.
“We need to ensure we can find new ways to help people stay active and social, whether they are online or not.”
Professor Clive Ballard, Executive Dean and Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “We are only just beginning to learn the impact that COVID-19 is having on the health and wellbeing of older people. For example, the effect of any economic impact may not yet have emerged.
“Our largescale study will span a number of years, and will help us understand some of the longer-term effects of COVID-19 on mental health and wellbeing, and ultimately, on whether this has any knock-on effect on aspects of ageing, such as brain function and memory.”