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The coronavirus pandemic is driving skyrocketing rates of depression

Adapted from Ettman, et al., 2020, "Prevalence of Depression Symptoms in US Adults Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic"; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Americans are reporting symptoms of depression three times more than they were before the pandemic, according to a recent study published in JAMA.

Why it matters: The downstream effects of the coronavirus on our health, and particularly our mental health, are getting worse.


Between the lines: The same people getting hammered hardest by the actual coronavirus are also most likely to be at higher risk of depression.

  • Households with lower incomes, households with less than $5,000 in savings and people with high exposure to coronavirus stressors were more likely to report depression symptoms.
  • "As an event that can cause physical, emotional, and psychological harm, the COVID-19 pandemic can itself be considered a traumatic event," the authors write. "In addition, the policies created to prevent its spread introduced new life stressors and disrupted daily living for most people in the US."

The bottom line: "Post–COVID-19 plans should account for the probable increase in mental illness to come, particularly among at-risk populations," the authors conclude.

Our thought bubble: In the short term, the best way to reduce mental health issues stemming from the pandemic is to reduce the severity of the pandemic, which means getting the virus under control and, in turn, lessening its economic disruption.

  • But mental health issues don't go away overnight, and our health care system was already bad at addressing them. Suicide and substance abuse have been huge issues in the U.S. for years.
  • If we're actually going to address these trauma-related mental health issues, that probably requires a serious policy effort, as the people most affected are the people least likely to have access to mental health care under today's system.

Go deeper: The coming coronavirus mental health crisis

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