COVID-19:  The Perfect Storm for Depression in Older Adults

COVID-19: The Perfect Storm for Depression in Older Adults

Nina Henry LCSW, JCFS Chicago Addiction Specialist

Bessie was the daily babysitter for her two young grandchildren while her daughter, Cheryl, worked full time.  The kids kept her entertained, busy, and physically active.  Now with the shelter-in-place order, Cheryl keeps the children home with her, terrified that her mother might contract COVID-19.  This has had the unfortunate unintended effect of leaving Bessie, a widow, completely isolated.  Bessie has a history of depression and now she finds the old fatigue, aches and pains, and depressed mood have returned.  With much of the world shut down, loneliness has become a familiar facet of everyday life, especially for older Americans living by themselves, in nursing homes, or retirement communities.

Loneliness and isolation are serious health risks for older adults.  Forty-three percent of adults age 60 or older in the U.S. have reported feeling lonely.*  It is reasonable to imagine this percentage has increased over the course of the pandemic’s shelter-in-place, with restrictions even more stringent for older adults.

Even before the pandemic, millions of older adults across the country struggled with feelings of loneliness, isolation, and a lack of regular companionship. Depression affects more than 6.5 million of the 35 million Americans age 65 and older: those who already live with anxiety and/or depression may experience a worsening of their mental health, and those who have not experienced it previously are at an increased and substantial risk. **

So in the time of COVID-19, what assistance can we offer our older adult friends, colleagues, and family members?

  1. Make a plan – talk to family and friends and develop a safety plan.  This plan should include who the older adult can contact if needs arise pertaining to food, medicine, and emotional support.  Plans for regular contact should be made; bearing in mind the comfort level the older adult has with technology.
  2. Keep a list of organizations that can help, including faith-based organizations and mental health care providers.
  3. Know who is most at risk – older adults with low income are more likely to have many chronic medical problems as well as lack of access to good Internet service.

COVID-19 tests us in many ways.  Reaching out to our loved ones, older adults and others, will help us avoid the worst effects of this virus.


Apps for Mindfulness



Online Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

5-Minute Guided Meditation


National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Chicago Helpline 833.626.4244

Crisis Text Line

After hours hotline that serves anyone, in any type of crisis, 24-hours a day. Text HELLO to: 741741 to access a trained crisis counselor

Community Support

CJE SeniorLife

JCFS Chicago

Our warm line provides assistance for people in our community whose need is not urgent and just looking to talk to someone about their emotional distress. Call us between 9am and 5pm Monday thru Thursday, 9am and 4pm Fridays at 855.275.5237 to connect with an emotional support professional or chaplain, if needed.



*From 2017 report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and funded by AARP Foundation

** 2019 University of Michigan-AARP poll