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Levels of depression in some adults increased during COVID-19

A new study examining the impact of COVID-19 on levels of depression among US adults has found that symptoms were nearly three times higher during the pandemic and that the burden was greatest among those already at an increased risk of infection.

The study by a team from the Boston School of Public Health, Massachusetts, used two population-based surveys of US adults aged 18 years and over.

During the current pandemic, data were obtained using the COVID-19 and life stressors impact on mental health and well-being (CLIMB) questionnaire conducted during March and April 2020 and the national health and nutrition survey (NHANES) conducted from 2017 to 2018 and both questionnaires included a validated measure of depression, the patient health questionnaire-9. A total of 1441 adults completed the CLIMB and 5065 completed the NHANES. Combining the data showed that 8.5% of adults had depression prior to COVID-19 and this increased to 27.8% during the pandemic. In addition, the prevalence of mild depression increased during the pandemic (24.6% vs 16.2%) as did the prevalence of severe depression (5.1% vs 0.7%). Interestingly, a higher incidence of depression during the pandemic was associated with lower income, lower savings and exposure to more stressors, for example, job loss.

The authors concluded that since the burden is greatest among socially marginalised groups, more resources should be directed towards supporting these groups.

Ettman CK et al. Prevalence of depression symptoms in US adults before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. JAMA Netw Open 2020;3(9):e 2019686.