Depression and anxiety in the pandemic : a longitudinal analysis of older New Zealanders : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts (by thesis) in Psychology at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand

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There has been widespread concern about the mental health impact of the global COVID-19 outbreak. However, the effect of the pandemic on the psychological wellbeing of older New Zealanders is largely unknown. This longitudinal study aimed to estimate the effect of the crisis on depression and anxiety scores of people aged 55 and older in Aotearoa. The sample included 3,171 people who responded to wave 7 (August-November 2018) and wave 8 (June-September 2020) of the Health, Work and Retirement Study. Analyses were carried out using paired t tests, multilevel mediation modelling, two-way mixed analysis of variance and multiple linear regression. Results showed depression scores increased slightly and anxiety scores decreased slightly over time, but neither change was statistically significant. Additional analyses considered the relationship between negative health behaviours and demographic subgroups and mental health change. Physical activity was shown to decrease significantly, albeit to a small degree, and there was evidence of an indirect effect of the pandemic on depression via physical activity. Alcohol use decreased significantly, albeit slightly. Depression scores significantly increased among people with the highest socioeconomic status (SES) and decreased for the lowest SES individuals. Anxiety and depression scores for people reporting a pre-existing mental health condition significantly decreased while depression scores increased for those without a prior condition. Changes in depression and anxiety scores did not differ significantly across gender or ethnicity. These findings suggest a general resilience among older New Zealanders 3 to 6 months into the pandemic. The ongoing collection of robust longitudinal data on mental health is necessary to monitor psychological change and ensure older people are adequately supported in this continuing crisis.
COVID-19, mental health, depression, anxiety, older people