Depression Rates Tripled During COVID-19

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  • Depression affects over 264 million people of all ages across the globe
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 80,000 people die from suicide every year, which is likely due to depression
  • A study has shown evidence of cases of depression tripling during the COVID-19 pandemic

In early March of this year, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. This led to countries employing strict social distancing policies to safeguard against the spread of disease.

The strict measures brought with it closures of schools, loss of businesses, social isolation, and a fear of the future. The disruption of life posed multiple mental health challenges for people worldwide.

People in the United States are among those affected the most from their government’s policies. The unemployment rate in the US has skyrocketed during the pandemic with over 20 million people filing for unemployment. 

Depression during the Pandemic

Since December 2019, the pandemic has managed to infect over 30 million people worldwide. The disease has not only taken a toll on everyone’s physical health but, also the mental health of millions of individuals worldwide.  

In a recent study, researchers at Boston University aimed to investigate the prevalence of depression symptoms among US adults, during and before the pandemic. Moreover, they also analyzed the risk factors associated with depression.

A total of 1441 participants were part of the during-COVID-19 sample whereas 5065 participants completed the survey before the pandemic. 

The COVID-19 and Life Stressors Impact on Mental Health and Well-being (CLIMB) study questionnaire was used for the during-COVID-19 sample. CLIMB assessed the stressors and mental health of these individuals.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) was given to the pre-COVID-19 participants.

The Patient Health Questionnaire–9 (PHQ-9) was used to assess the symptoms of depression.

Depression Rates Tripled According to Study

8.5% of the participants had depression before the pandemic. However, during the pandemic this rose to 27.8%, showing a 3-fold high prevalence of depression symptoms during COVID-19. 

Persons who were already at risk before COVID-19, with fewer social and economic resources, were more likely to report probable depression.

Catherine Ettman (study author)

Women and non-Hispanic Asians had a higher rate of the illness. Additionally, individuals from the lowest income category were 50% more likely to experience symptoms of depression.

What Do the Results Tell Us?

According to researchers, the economic consequences of the pandemic have greatly affected the mental health of individuals. 

The findings of the study point to the fact that the burden of depression is largely being borne by individuals with low income and fewer resources.

Thus, it is hoped that authorities will keep these factors in mind when making future policies. Therefore, reducing the burden of disease and lessening the toll of the pandemic on people belong to economically and socially marginalized groups.

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.

Catherine Ettman (study author)


Ettman CK, Abdalla SM, Cohen GH, Sampson L, Vivier PM, Galea S. Prevalence of Depression Symptoms in US Adults Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2019686. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.19686


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