Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Depression Symptoms Soar During Pandemic, Study Finds

The prevalence of symptoms of depression in U.S. adults during a two-week period of the COVID-19 pandemic was more than three times higher than before the pandemic, according to a report in JAMA Network Open.

Moreover, people with a lower income, savings of less than $5,000, and greater exposure to COVID-19 stressors were more likely to have depressive symptoms than people who did not fall into those categories.

“These findings suggest that there is a high burden of depression symptoms in the United States associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and that this burden falls disproportionately on individuals who are already at increased risk,” wrote Sandro Galea, M.D., Dr.PH., of Boston University School of Public Health and colleagues.

Between March 31 and April 13, Galea and colleagues surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,470 U.S. adults aged 18 or older about COVID-19 exposure, life stressors, and mental health using the COVID-19 and Life Stressors Impact on Mental Health and Well-being study questionnaire. COVID-19 stressors included, among others, the loss of a job, the death of someone close due to COVID-19, and financial difficulties. Depression symptoms were assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire-9.

The prevalence of depression symptoms reported during the COVID-19 pandemic was then compared with that reported by 5,065 participants in the 2017-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The researchers found that a total of 382 participants (27.8%) had depression symptoms during COVID-19 compared with 458 participants (8.5%) before COVID-19. Higher levels of depression symptoms were observed in all demographic groups during COVID-19 compared with before, and across all levels of severity—mild, moderate, and severe.

Compared with individuals with an annual household income of $75,000 or more, those with a household income of $19,999 or less had 2.4-fold increased odds of depression symptoms. Individuals with household savings less than $5,000 had 1.5-fold increased odds of depression symptoms. Experiencing more COVID-19 stressors was also associated with greater odds of depression symptoms compared with people with low stressor exposure.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Ruth Shim, M.D., M.P.H., director of cultural psychiatry at the University of California, Davis, emphasized the need to address socioeconomic factors and their impact on mental health. “The study … might remind us of the importance of investing (both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic) in stable housing, unemployment benefits, access to healthy food, and policies that end discrimination and exclusion to effectively manage a highly disabling, common mental health condition that will likely only increase in prevalence as the pandemic rages on.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Expect a ‘Long Tail’ of Mental Health Effects From COVID-19.”

(Image: iStock/franckreporter)

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