First Year of Pandemic Saw Depression Rates Triple

TUESDAY, Oct. 5, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Depression rates rose three-fold among U.S. adults during the first year of the COVID pandemic, new research shows.

Surveys of more than 6,500 adults found that about 33% have had more intense symptoms of depression this year, compared to 28% in the pandemic's early months in spring of 2020 and 9% before it began.

"The sustained and increasing prevalence of elevated depressive symptoms suggests that the burden of the pandemic on mental health has been ongoing -- and that it has been unequal," lead author Catherine Ettman said in a Boston University news release. She is chief of staff and director of strategic initiatives in the Office of the Dean at BU's School of Public Health.

Rates were highest among those who were unmarried, had low incomes and multiple sources of stress, including job loss and inability to pay rent.

People who made less than $20,000 a year were 2.3 times more likely to have elevated symptoms of depression than those making $75,000 or more, the study found. By spring 2021, low-income adults were more than seven times more likely to have these symptoms.

People coping with four or more pandemic-related stressors were more likely to have elevated depressive symptoms. They were also least likely to overcome those stresses, compared to adults with fewer stressors.

The study -- published Oct. 4 in the journal The Lancet Regional Health - Americas -- highlights the pandemic's long-term impact on Americans' mental health, according to the researchers.

"The sustained high prevalence of depression does not follow patterns after previous traumatic events such as Hurricane Ike and the Ebola outbreak," said senior author Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of public health at Boston University. "Typically, we would expect depression to peak following the traumatic event and then lower over time."

Instead, researchers found that levels of depression remained high a year into the pandemic.

Economic relief and the development of COVID-19 vaccines may have prevented even worse depression outcomes, Ettman suggested.

"Low-income populations have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and efforts moving forward should keep this population in mind," she said. "Addressing stressors such as job loss, challenges accessing child care, and difficulties paying rent, will help to improve population mental health and reduce inequities that have deepened during the pandemic."

More information

Mental Health America has more on COVID-19 and mental health.

SOURCE: Boston University School of Public Health, news release, Oct. 4, 2021

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