Experiences of American Older Adults with Pre-existing Depression During the Beginnings of the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Multicity, Mixed-Methods Study

Megan E. Hamm, Patrick J. Brown, Jordan F. Karp, Emily Lenard, Flor Cameron, Alicia Dawdani, Helen Lavretsky, J. Philip Miller, Benoit H. Mulsant, Vy T. Pham, Charles F. Reynolds, Steven P. Roose, Eric J. Lenze

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Objective: To determine the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of older adults with pre-existing major depressive disorder (MDD). Participants: Participants were 73 community-living older adults with pre-existing MDD (mean age 69 [SD 6]) in Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh, and St Louis. Design and Measurements: During the first 2 months of the pandemic, the authors interviewed participants with a semistructured qualitative interview evaluating access to care, mental health, quality of life, and coping. The authors also assessed depression, anxiety, and suicidality with validated scales and compared scores before and during the pandemic. Results: Five themes from the interviews highlight the experience of older adults with MDD: 1) They are more concerned about the risk of contracting the virus than the risks of isolation. 2) They exhibit resilience to the stress and isolation of physical distancing. 3) Most are not isolated socially, with virtual contact with friends and family. 4) Their quality of life is lower, and they worry their mental health will suffer with continued physical distancing. 5) They are outraged by an inadequate governmental response to the pandemic. Depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation symptom scores did not differ from scores before the pandemic. Conclusion: Most older adults with pre-existing MDD show resilience in the first 2 months of the COVID-19 pandemic but have concerns about the future. Policies and interventions to provide access to medical services and opportunities for social interaction are needed to help to maintain mental health and quality of life as the pandemic continues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)924-932
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Covid-19 Pandemic
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • resilience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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