More than 25% of US people have depression during COVID-19 pandemic

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In a new study, researchers found more than a quarter of American adults are experiencing COVID-related symptoms of depression.

Though 8.5% of adults were experiencing depression symptoms before the pandemic, the rate climbed to 27.8% of adults by mid-April 2020.

This is the first national study in the United States to assess the change in depression prevalence before and during COVID-19.

The research was conducted by a team at Boston University and elsewhere.

Depression in the general population after prior large-scale traumatic events has been observed to, at most, double.

The team cites examples such as September 11, the West Africa Ebola outbreak, and recent civil unrest in Hong Kong.

In the study, they used the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), the leading self-administered depression screening tool used by mental healthcare professionals.

The researchers compared data from 5,065 respondents to the 2017-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), and 1,441 respondents from the COVID-19 Life Stressors Impact on Mental Health and Well-Being (CLIMB) study, conducted from March 31 to April 13, 2020.

At that time 96% of the US population was under stay-at-home advisories or shelter-in-place policies.

Both surveys used the PHQ-9 to assess depression symptoms and gathered the same baseline of demographic data.

The 2020 survey also gathered data on COVID-related stressors, including job loss, the death of a friend or loved one from COVID-19, and financial problems.

Experiencing more COVID-related stressors was a major predictor of depression symptoms.

The researchers found an increase in depression symptoms among all demographic groups. But the biggest difference in depression rates among demographics came down to a person’s finances.

They found that, since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, someone with less than $5,000 in savings was 50% more likely to have depression symptoms than someone with more than $5,000.

The findings underline the importance of working to build a society where a robust safety net exists, where people have fair wages, where equitable policies and practices exist, and where families can not only live on their income but can also save money towards the future.

The researchers hope the study findings will also help those who are experiencing depression in this incredibly difficult time see that they are not alone: on the contrary, one in four US adults is going through the same thing.

One author of the study is Sandro Galea, a professor and dean in the School of Public Health.

The study is published in JAMA Network Open.

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