The Mental Health Experiences of Older People During the Pandemic

This content mentions death or bereavement, anxiety and depression, which some people may find triggering.

Too many older people's mental health needs were invisible before Covid-19, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem.

In this briefing, we report some specific findings from the 'Coronavirus: Mental Health in the Pandemic' study, looking at the experiences of older people. In addition, we have undertaken qualitative investigation in the form of 14 in-depth interviews with older people aged over 60 years.

Older couple talking

Key messages

  • Many people in later life have coped well and shown resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic, with some having positive experiences of neighbourly support and closer links with friends and relatives. However, others have faced challenges that have caused worry and anxiety and negatively affected their mental health and wellbeing.
  • Significant, often overlapping, challenges include bereavement, chronic loneliness, long-term or voluntary shielding, deterioration in physical health, mobility or confidence, difficulties accessing health services and challenges using public transport. Due to these, some will have experienced poor mental health and are likely to have mental health support needs.
  • For some older people, the end of lockdown restrictions did not make much difference, there was no happy 'return to normal'. They will continue to face the same illness, loneliness or isolation, or a combination of these, as they did before and / or during the pandemic.
  • The pandemic has highlighted the value and importance of being digitally connected, especially for social connection and contact with health professionals and other care providers. While some older people have benefited from this during the pandemic, many others are digitally excluded or prefer other types of contact. Ensuring people have a choice of how they connect with health and care services is essential.
  • Important coping strategies for some people in later life have been going for a walk outside, contacting family, spending time in green spaces, and keeping up to date with relevant information. However, many have been unable to do this, which has negatively affected both their physical and mental health.
  • As we look to winter and beyond, governments must ensure that their mental health wellbeing and recovery plans fully consider the needs of people in later life. This must include a focus on social connection, bereavement support, and appropriate routes to access treatment and care to bolster people's mental health.

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