COVID-19 Pandemic Likely Tripled the US Depression Rate: Study
Sun, April 18, 2021

COVID-19 Pandemic Likely Tripled the US Depression Rate: Study


A new study suggested a three-fold increase in the depression rate in the US. The spike has been associated with millions of adults financially affected by the pandemic.

The three-fold increase in US depression rates was unveiled by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), a graduate school of Boston University. Their findings revealed that the spike in depression rates was caused by the economic, financial, and occupational impact among adults. Those in lower socioeconomic levels were more likely to be affected by COVID-19 stressors. Researchers proposed policies to mitigate these stressors. They published their findings in the journal JAMA Network Open.

COVID-19 and Depression Among British Adults

Depressive symptoms are quite normal for adults to experience every day. But most adults can fight these symptoms through different means. Unfortunately, being depressed these days are more common due to the ongoing pandemic. Millions of people have lost their source of income as businesses either closed their operations or downsized their manpower. Either way, lots of people became unemployed.

According to Statista, a German portal for statistics, the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey conducted from July 2019 to June 2020 showed a sudden rise in depression among British adults. The survey asked 3,527 respondents regarding experiences of depressive symptoms. Respondents were also asked the intensity of these symptoms during the pandemic. From July 2019 to March 2020, the estimated depression rate was 9.7%, derived from respondents who reported moderate to severe depressive symptoms. By June 2020, the rate surged to 19.2% in just one month: an increase of 9.5%. The survey also showed that 12.9% of respondents reported severe depressive symptoms.

"Adults who were young, female, unable to afford an unexpected expense or disabled were the most likely to experience some form of depression during the pandemic," explained Tim Vizard, principal research officer at the Office for National Statistics.

Vizard clarified that the depression rates expressed in the survey could not be entirely blamed on the pandemic. The rates could have been influenced by a combination of reasons, either standalone or boosted by COVID-19. As such, the pandemic was defined as a factor in the rising numbers of adults suffering from depression.



COVID-19 and Depression Among US Adults

At BUSM, researchers conducted the first School of Public Health study to determine the prevalence of depression among US adults. The study focused on depressive symptoms before and during the pandemic. They used the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ 9) to nationally represent the depression prevalence throughout the country. The results shocked them: the prevalence rate was likely three times higher than the previous reading.

"Depression in the general population after prior large-scale traumatic events has been observed to, at most, double. We were surprised to see these results at first, but other studies since conducted suggest similar-scale mental health consequences," said Dr. Sandro Galea, the senior author of the study and professor of family medicine at Boston.

In the study, researchers utilized the data from 5,065 respondents of the 2017-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), and 1,441 respondents of the COVID-19 Life Stressors Impact on Mental Health and Well-Being study (CLIMB), which was performed between March 31 and April 13, 2020. The CLIMB study was conducted during the time when 96% of the US population was subjected to stay-at-home policies. Both NHANES and CLIMB applied the PHQ 9 questionnaire. Also, CLIMB included COVID-19 stressors, such as job loss and death of a loved one from the disease.



Results showed that depression was apparent across all demographic groups. But the primary factor associated with depressive symptoms was money. CLIMB study showed that depressive symptoms were prevalent in every category during the pandemic, compared to the scores from NHANES. Mild depression scored 24.6% compared to the previous 16.2%, moderate depression scored 14.8% compared to the previous 5.7%, moderately severe depression scored 7.9% compared to the previous 2.1%, and severe depression scored 5.1% compared to the previous 0.7%. The prevalence of no depression was 75.3% from NHANES that dropped to 47.5% from the CLIMB data. It reflected an absolute difference of 27.7%.

As the biggest factor, low income represented the highest risk of depressive symptoms with an odds ratio of 2.37. For those with savings below $5,000, the odds ratio for the association was 1.52. And finally, exposure to multiple COVID-19 stressors expressed an odds ratio of 3.05. Thus, COVID-19 likely led to three-fold depression prevalence across the US.

By demographic characteristics, depression prevalence rates were 6.9% in men and 10.1% in women before COVID-19. During the pandemic, the rates rose to 21.9% in men and 33.3% in women. Per age group, the prevalence rates before COVID-19 were 9% among aged 18 to 39 years, 8.5% among aged 40 to 59 years, and 7.9% among aged 60 years and older. The rates surged to 38.8% among aged 18 to 39 years, 26.8% among aged 40 to 59 years, and 14.9% among aged 60 years and older.

Between races, the prevalence rates of depression during the pandemic were higher than before COVID-19. The rates were 26.5% in non-Hispanic Whites, 24.2% in non-Hispanic Blacks, 32% in Hispanics, 23.1% in non-Hispanic Asians, and 34.4% in other races or ethnicities. Those figures overwhelmed the NHANES scores of 8.4% for non-Hispanic Whites, non-Hispanic Blacks, and Hispanics each, 4.4% in non-Hispanic Asians, and 16% in other races or ethnicities.

Since money was the biggest factor, those with higher household income were less likely to report depression, compared to those with lower household income. Before COVID-19, the prevalence rates were 16.8% for household income of $19,999 or less, 10.1% for household income of $20,000 to $44,999, 8.3% for household income of $45,000 to $74,999, and 4.8% for household of $75,000 or more. During the pandemic, the respective prevalence rates were 46.9%, 31.1%, 23.3%, and 16.9%. Even those with higher incomes felt the impact of the global crisis.

Researchers hope that policymakers may develop steps to reduce the impact of these stressors. While the study findings were focused in the US, the same reality could be happening across the globe.