SALT LAKE CITY — Depression cases are soaring since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, regardless of whether patients contracted the virus or not, a new study reveals. Researchers in Utah say a study of more than 135,000 people shows both rates and the severity of depressive symptoms increased “significantly” during the pandemic, even among those who were never sick.
More than half of all patients reported some degree of clinically-relevant depressive symptoms, scientists say. The research team adds that the pandemic had an impact on just about every aspect of a people’s lives — from lockdown and quarantining to social distancing and an ever-changing landscape of travel rules and restrictions. This created stress that impacted the mental health of millions.
“It didn’t matter if a patient was positive or negative for the virus. We found increased rates of depression and depression severity across the board,” says Heidi May, PhD, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at Intermountain Health and the study’s principal investigator, in a media release.
“As poor mental health can impact chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, screening for and treating mental health is a critical part of any overall patient care process right now. Doing so will both help patients in this moment, and protect their future health.”
Study authors examined 135,864 patients who completed a questionnaire which doctors use to screen for depression in primary care settings from Jan. 1, 2016 to April 20, 2022. They analyzed how those scores changed over time, before and after the emergence of COVID.
Depression skyrocketed by 10% during COVID
The researchers found a “significant” increase in depressive scores. The team found that before the pandemic, around 45 percent of patients reported some degree of depression. Starting in 2021, that changed to 55 percent showing at least some degree of depression. However, there was no significant difference in scores among COVID-positive and negative patients.
Depression, anxiety, stress, and PTSD all have a link to higher rates of high blood pressure and higher levels of the hormone cortisol — which can lead to calcium build-up in the arteries, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.
“We know depression is a risk factor for chronic disease, so given these findings, it’s really important to mitigate some of the effects of depression so these patients can lead healthier and happier lives right now, and in the future,” Dr. May concludes.
Researchers presented the findings at the American College of Cardiology’s 2023 scientific session.
South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.