With nearly one million American lives lost to Covid-19, the impact of the pandemic has been significant, often heartbreaking.
New figures released today show just how significant an impact the pandemic has had on mental health – and for whom.
Nearly half (49%) of respondents reported symptoms of depression, according to a new report from the COVID States Project, with 26% reporting moderate or worse symptoms, the level at which follow-up typically occurs in a clinical setting. Care will be recommended.
The latest survey—conducted between March 2 and April 4, 2022—with more than 22,000 people in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.—is part of a series of nationwide surveys about public attitudes and behavior related to COVID-19 .
This survey, like the others in the series, included a standard depression screening tool. The latest findings suggest a higher rate of moderate or severe depressive symptoms, compared to a pre-pandemic rate of about 8%.
A glimmer of hope: The previous waves of the survey showed even higher rates of depression, which peaked in December 2020.
Not only are the overall rates of depression related, but there are some demographic differences as well.
Rates of depression vary dramatically by age. Fully half of young adults aged 18 to 24 reported moderate or severe symptoms of depression and another 23% reported mild symptoms. In contrast, 22% of middle-aged people between 45 and 64 had moderate or high depressive symptoms and 9% of those 65 and older fell into this category. Before the pandemic, the researchers note, depression levels were consistent across age groups.
“These are frighteningly high numbers, and it should come as no surprise that mental health services are overwhelmed,” said Catherine Ognyanova, PhD, associate professor at Rutgers University School of Communication and Information and one of the study’s authors. “Teaching in college, we get to see firsthand how many of our students are struggling and how difficult it can be for them to get help. There is a very long wait for counseling and psychiatric services in universities. As instructors, we face an unusually large number of students facing challenges we are not fully equipped to help them deal with.”
Gender and racial differences also emerged.
More than half (52%) of the women reported depressive symptoms, with 28% reporting moderate or worse symptoms. By comparison, 46% of men had symptoms, with 24% having moderate or severe symptoms.
Hispanic respondents and respondents who identified as “other race” had the highest rates of depression at 55% and 61%, respectively. About a third (31%) of Hispanic respondents had moderate or severe symptoms.
White and black respondents reported similar rates of depressive symptoms and reported similar severity of symptoms; 26% of white respondents and 28% of black respondents reported moderate or severe symptoms. Asian respondents were the least likely to report depression, with 56% reporting no symptoms and 23% reporting moderate or severe symptoms.
Regional differences were also evident. Minnesota and Connecticut had the lowest rates of depression at 20%, while Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kentucky and New Mexico had the highest rates of 32%.
How You Feel Reflects How You Vote
Survey findings also reveal substantial differences in rates of depression by political affiliation. Throughout the survey series, the researchers note, respondents who identified as Democrats consistently reported higher levels of depression than those who identified as Republicans.
“We had anticipated that this could reverse with the transition from Trump to Biden’s administration. But it didn’t really go much further,” Matthew A. Baum, the Marvin Kalb Professor of Global Communications and Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, and the John F. Kennedy School of Government and other authors of the study said.
Baum explained that Democrats are more concerned about the pandemic than Republicans and are more likely to isolate, social distance and mask.
“All of these measures are, of course, challenging on many levels and could potentially be associated with greater depression,” he said. “Furthermore, Democrats express greater concern over the state of American political institutions, which represents another source of tension.”
Among young people, the difference between Democrats and Republicans is 14%, while it is only 2% to 4% among older adults.
“I think that while social isolation is difficult for everyone, it is especially difficult for young people and happened at a time when one of the primary vehicles for providing mental health care—college and university—became unavailable. ”, said Baum. “It would be surprising to find that generational and political factors interact, such that young Democrats are most likely to be depressed.”
Independents generally tracked down with Democrats until March 2021, but since then, independents have become the group most likely to report depression. In the current poll, nearly a third of independents report moderate or severe symptoms, compared to 26% of Democrats and 20% of Republicans.
According to Baum, this phenomenon is difficult to explain. They suggest that because independents tend to be less ideologically or politically engaged, they may be particularly vulnerable to economic stressors such as inflation. In turn, this may be a factor in higher rates of depression.
everyone knows someone
Virtually not everyone – but it is common for Americans to report knowing someone who has died of COVID-19.
According to new figures, 40% of Americans know at least one person who has died of COVID-19. About one in ten (7%) knows three or more people who have died.
These deaths reached close to the homes of many people. Of the respondents who knew at least one person who died of COVID-19, 15% lost a family member and 18% lost a friend.
Black and Hispanic respondents, as well as those living in the South, were more likely than others to report knowing someone who died of COVID-19. According to the report, regional differences generally reflect per capita mortality rates in those states.
Although knowing someone who died did not seem to affect rates of depression, losing a loved one did. Of those who lost a family member, nearly a third reported depression, compared to 26% of those who did not know someone who had died.
“Every time we put out a mental health report, I am once again amazed at how bad things look,” Ognyanova said. “It will take a long time before we are able to assess long-term results, or to see if the numbers can return to pre-pandemic times.”
The author is married to one of the researchers who prepared this report.