UCL study shows shielding during pandemic doubled depressive symptoms in older people

A study from University College London (UCL) has revealed older people who were shielding throughout the pandemic were almost twice as likely to experience depressive symptoms, compared to those who were not. 

The study – co-authored by researchers from the University of Manchester – showed that older people staying at home, as well as shielding, were strongly associated with a greater risk of developing anxiety, depressive symptoms, and lower quality of life. 

According to UCL, the study used data from more than 5,000 adults over the age of 50 from the first 8–9 months of the pandemic to investigate the relationship between shielding and mental health, whilst controlling sociodemographic characteristics, pre-pandemic physical and mental health, and social isolation measures.  

Dr Giorgio Di Gessa, Lead Author of the study, Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care, UCL, commented: “When restrictions came into place in March 2020, around 3.8 million (6%) people in the UK were ordered to shield, 74% of whom were aged over 50. Our study is the first of its kind to look at the effect shielding had on the mental wellbeing of older people in England. 

“We know from previous studies that the pandemic and policies restricting human interaction have posed a greater risk to mental health and wellbeing, especially among specific people in socioeconomic adversity, those with pre-existing poorer health, and those feeling lonely.

“In our study we therefore took all these factors into account to understand if shielding and staying at home were additional factors contributing to poorer mental health among older people.” 

Professor Debbie Price, Co-author, The University of Manchester, added: “Policy makers need to be aware of adverse consequences for the mental health and well-being of those advised to shield or stay at home. If the long-term health and social wellbeing of older people is to be safeguarded, there must be careful thought given to addressing the mental health and wider needs of individuals at higher risk from Covid-19 variants, or future pandemics.”