A new study by a New Mexico State University researcher found that depression and anxiety rates in the United States have more than doubled among adults amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study, published in the Journal of Public Health, represents a comprehensive national assessment of the prevalence of depression and anxiety in the adult U.S. population.
“Our study is among the largest across the nation, and estimated depression and anxiety using clinically validated measures to find individuals who had serious psychological distress,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, public health sciences professor in the College of Health and Social Services at NMSU.
Khubchandani, the study’s lead author, conducted the research in collaboration with faculty members from Ball State University, the University of Florida and the University of Houston.
“While a few studies estimated mental health of Americans early in the pandemic, we conducted our study last summer to estimate the true impact of sustained, long-term lockdowns, isolation and excessive use of technology,” Khubchandani said. “The nature and extent of loneliness and screen-time use, along with the constant news cycle, could have a detrimental impact on the mental health of Americans.”
A total of 1,978 adults from across the U.S. participated in the study, Khubchandani said.
The study found that the rates of depression (39 percent), anxiety (42 percent) and psychological distress (39 percent) were more than double the rates from before the pandemic. Psychological distress includes symptoms of both depression and anxiety.
Depression, anxiety and psychological distress burden differed significantly based on race, ethnicity, age, having children at home, employment as a health care worker, annual household income and area of residence, according to the study. Males were more likely to have depression, and females were more likely to have anxiety symptoms.
The prevalence of depression was statistically significantly higher for males; Hispanics; married individuals; health care workers; individuals with children at home; individuals earning less than $60,000; individuals living in rural areas or the western U.S.; and individuals in the 18-to-25 age group.
The prevalence of anxiety was statistically significantly higher for females; African-Americans; Hispanics; married individuals; health care workers; individuals with children at home; individuals earning less than $60,000; urban dwellers; individuals living in the western U.S.; and individuals in the 18-to-25 age group.
The prevalence of psychological distress was significantly higher for males; Hispanics; married individuals; health care workers; individuals with children at home; individuals earning less than $60,000; urban or rural dwellers; individuals living in the western U.S.; and individuals in the 18-to-40 age group.
Before the pandemic, almost one-fifth of adult Americans had a diagnosable mental disorder, Khubchandani said. But that rate has since increased significantly over the past year, he added.
“Sociocultural factors from before the pandemic, along with the vulnerability to COVID-19, have rendered catastrophic consequences for several groups, including minorities, families with low incomes, and those are young and urban,” he said. “Unfortunately, these are the groups that traditionally had the lowest access to quality mental health care even before the pandemic.”
Given the high prevalence of depression and anxiety in the study population, Khubchandani recommends individuals improve their mental health through interdisciplinary and multisectoral approaches and population-based interventions.
“A wide range of text message-based interventions, mass media campaigns, telehealth services and computer-based interventions are broadly available to improve population mental health,” he said. “We are also now looking at the effect of excessive technology use and constant news cycles. It has to be a fine balance using technology to improve mental health while not overwhelming individuals with more technology.”
Khubchandani added that policymakers and public health practitioners should redouble their efforts in preventing morbidity and premature mortality by implementing population-based interventions to improve mental health and address the multiple detrimental stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To read the study, visit http://bit.ly/36hhK2P.
Information from NMSU
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