Depression symptoms impact three times as many Americans during coronavirus pandemic

BOSTON — The coronavirus pandemic has brought financial, job, and medical problems to millions of Americans. A new study reveals all these stressors are also having a devastating effect on the nation’s mental health. The Boston University School of Public Health finds the depression rate among U.S. adults has tripled during the national quarantine.

The Boston team reports only 8.5 percent of adults displayed depression symptoms before the pandemic began. The new study, conducted in mid-April when 96 percent of the U.S. population was under stay-at-home orders, reveals depression cases skyrocketed to 27.8 percent.

“We were surprised to see these results at first, but other studies since conducted suggest similar-scale mental health consequences,” Dr. Sandro Galea says in a university release.

Further studies during the pandemic are mainly focusing on students and healthcare professionals; one finding half of Chinese healthcare workers are displaying depression symptoms.

Money a major factor in rising depression rates

The study examines data on more than 5,000 respondents in the 2017-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They compare those findings to 1,441 respondents in the COVID-19 Life Stressors Impact on Mental Health and Well-Being study. This study was completed between March 31 to April 13, 2020 as the pandemic’s effects spread across America.

Both of the surveys use the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ 9), the gold standard for depression screening tools which patients can complete themselves. The tests measure depression symptoms and helped researchers gather information on COVID-19-related job loss, deaths of friends or loved ones, and financial problems.

The results show an increase in depression cases among all demographics in the United States. The biggest differences however, come down to money. After adjusting for all other factors, the study finds adults with less than $5,000 in savings are 50 percent more likely to have depression during the pandemic.

“Persons who were already at risk before COVID-19, with fewer social and economic resources, were more likely to report probable depression, suggesting that inequity may increase during this time and that health gaps may widen,” study lead author Catherine Ettman explains.

Addressing mental health during a pandemic

Study authors suggest helping more Americans get back on their feet financially during COVID-19 will also fight off mental distress. They add lawmakers can take several steps to give more people peace of mind amid the health crisis.

“There may be steps that policymakers can take now to help reduce the impact of COVID-19 stressors on depression, such as eviction moratoria, providing universal health insurance that is not tied to employment, and helping people return to work safely for those able to do so,” Ettman adds.

The study appears in the journal JAMA Network Open.

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