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‘Staggering’ increase in COVID-linked depression, anxiety


Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a dramatic increase in depression, anxiety, psychosis, and suicidality, new research shows.

The new data, released by Mental Health America (MHA), came from individuals who completed a voluntary online mental health screen.

As of the end of June, over 169,000 additional participants reported having moderate to severe depression or anxiety, compared with participants who completed the screen prior to the pandemic.

In June alone, 18,000 additional participants were found to be at risk for psychosis, continuing a rising pattern that began in May, when 16,000 reported psychosis risk.

“We continue to see staggering numbers that indicate increased rates in depression and anxiety because of COVID-19,” Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of MHA, said in a release.

“In fact, the problem is bigger than anyone imagined, making it clear how the pandemic is affecting people now and will continue to affect people who mourn loved ones and whose serious mental conditions are left untreated. So we need to take this very seriously,” Mr. Gionfriddo said in an interview.

Real-time data

MHA has been conducting online screenings for 6 years. To date, nearly 5.5 million screenings have been completed, making it the largest screening program of its kind in the United States, Mr. Gionfriddo reported.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we were asked by a member of the media if we could offer any insight about how anxiety in particular was affecting people during the pandemic since we were the only ones with a database that could give quantitative detail,” he said.

The results of their screen could also help find that information “in real time,” he added.

More people are now undergoing mental health screenings, Mr. Gionfriddo noted.

At roughly 7,000 per day in May and June, the number of anxiety and depression screenings that were completed per day were 406% and 457% higher, respectively, than the number completed in January.

The youngest group of participants were those aged 11-17 years; the oldest age group consisted of individuals 65 years and older.

The Patient Health Questionnaire–9 was used to identify those at risk for depression, the General Anxiety Disorder–7 was used to identify those at risk for anxiety, and the Prodromal Questionnaire Brief Version was used to identify those at high risk for psychosis.

Current events

The most profound health problems were found among adults younger than 25 years. Roughly 90% screened positive for moderate to severe depression, and 80% screened positive for moderate to severe anxiety.

“Kids between the ages of 11 and 17 years have been the most stressed, but it seems to be easier to bear as you get older,” Mr. Gionfriddo said.

Loneliness and isolation were cited as contributors to depression and anxiety by the largest percentage of individuals with these conditions (74% and 65%, respectively).

In June, roughly one quarter of participants also cited grief or loss and financial concerns as contributors to anxiety (25.31% and 24.18%, respectively) and to depression (26.53% and 23.36%).

Current events were cited as an important contributor, leading to more mental health problems in June, compared with May (36.11% vs 29.41 for anxiety; 29.13% vs 21.77% for depression).

The June screen added the category of racism as a potential contributor. Close to 8% reported it as a reason for anxiety, and roughly 5% considered it a reason for depression.

“We will be releasing more data at the end of July, and it will be interesting to see how the racism category compares to data we collected at the end of June,” Mr. Gionfriddo noted.


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