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Study Reveals Anxiety, Depression Peaked During Last Winter’s Coronavirus Surge

The coronavirus pandemic’s deadly surge in the fall and winter of 2020 triggered a major wave of depression and anxiety among American adults according to data gathered by the National Health Interview Survey that was published on Tuesday.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

“Nationally, the average anxiety severity scores increased from 2.0 during August 19–31, 2020, to 2.3 during December 9–21, 2020 (APC = 1.5% per wave), reflecting a 13.0% increase in symptoms. During this same period, the average depression severity score increased from 1.6 to 2.0, reflecting a 14.8% increase. From December 9–21, 2020, to May 26–June 7, 2021, the average anxiety severity score decreased to 1.7 (APC = −3.1% per wave), reflecting a 26.8% decrease; during this same period, the average depression severity score decreased to 1.4 (APC = −2.8% per wave), reflecting a 24.8% decrease,” the study found. “Analyses of 2019 NHIS data indicate that the weighted average anxiety and depression severity scores among adults aged ≥18 years were 0.63 and 0.51, respectively. Quarterly weighted average anxiety and depression severity scores ranged from 0.61 to 0.65 and from 0.50 to 0.52, respectively; variation in these quarterly scores was substantially less than that in HPS during similar months.”

In other words, COVID-19 led to a peak in mental health problems – which were reported by patients experiencing chronic symptoms – that were directly associated with the daily number of infections and deaths when compared to the same time period in 2019.

“The frequency of anxiety and depression symptoms experienced among U.S. adults increased after August 2020 and peaked during December 2020–January 2021. The frequency of symptoms subsequently decreased but in June 2021 remained elevated compared with estimates from the 2019 NHIS. The relative increases and decreases in frequency of reported symptoms of anxiety and depression at both the national and state levels mirrored the national weekly number of new COVID-19 cases during the same period,” the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote in its report.

The CDC concluded that access to mental health treatments must be incorporated into pandemic response plans.

“The increased frequency of reported symptoms of anxiety and depression in this study indicates that mental health services and resources, including telehealth behavioral services, are critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19. National COVID-19 trends demonstrate that certain populations have been disproportionately affected by high COVID-19 incidence, which also suggests that these populations might be more vulnerable to the psychological consequences of COVID-19,” the agency said. “The mental health impact of COVID-19 also might have community-specific effects when morbidity and mortality rates are increasing as a result of COVID-19. Fluctuations in symptoms of anxiety and depression during the pandemic highlight the importance of real-time monitoring of mental health symptoms. Tracking these outcomes, including by demographic characteristics, can provide early indicators of potential increases in the demand for mental health services and for the health care providers needed to treat persons with clinically significant symptoms.”

Read the full report here.



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