COVID-19: Depression and Anxiety Twice as Common Among Older People Who Were Shielding

Priscilla Lynch 

October 06, 2020

Older people in England who were instructed to shield and self-isolate at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic experienced higher levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness compared with those who were not shielding, according to a new study.

The research shows that the increase in poor mental health was not related to reductions in social contacts, but due to higher levels of worry about obtaining food and other essentials and less physical activity and sleep.

The findings are published in a series of working papers using data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19.

The ELSA COVID-19 substudy gathered data from approximately 5800 older women and men (mean age, 70 years) in June and July 2020 to evaluate the effect of COVID-19 on mental health, quality of life, social connectedness, worries and health-related behaviour.

Key findings

  • Only 60 per cent of older people instructed to shield were strictly isolating in April and May 2020, staying at home and trying to limit face-to-face contact.

  • Severe depression and anxiety symptoms were twice as common among high-risk older individuals who were socially isolating compared with average-risk participants (32% vs 17%).

  • Loneliness was much more common in the shielded group participants who were strictly isolating compared with average-risk participants, even when factors such as age, sex, number of people in the household and whether or not the person had a partner were taken into account (33% vs 21%).

  • Participants in the high-risk group were more likely to have been hospitalised with COVID-19 (15% vs 3%) and to be worried about obtaining food and other essentials (12% vs 6%).

  • People who were in the shielded group were more likely to be less physically active than usual and to spend more time sitting compared with others (47% vs 33%).


Steptoe A, Steel N. ELSA COVID-19 Substudy: The experience of older people instructed to shield or self-isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic. English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. 2020 September 30 View full text

This article originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as: