TORONTO — The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health led to millions of new cases of depression and anxiety around the world, a new study from Australian researchers has found.
The study, published in The Lancet on Friday, looked at over 5,600 datasets from numerous surveys around the world focusing on the effect of the pandemic on mental health. They then conducted disease modelling to calculate the prevalence of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders due to COVID-19.
Researchers calculated that in 2020, the pandemic led to an additional 53 million cases of major depressive disorder and 76 million cases of anxiety disorder, representing an increase of 28 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively.
The researchers found that compared to men, women were twice as likely to experience pandemic-induced major depressive disorder or anxiety disorder. This is the result of women often having to be the ones to take on additional responsibilities at home exacerbated by lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, the researchers say.
“Women are more likely to be financially disadvantaged during the pandemic due to lower salaries, less savings, and less secure employment than their male counterparts,” the authors wrote. “They are also more likely to be victims of domestic violence, the prevalence of which increased during periods of lockdown and stay-at-home orders
Depression and anxiety from the pandemic were also less common in older age groups and more common among younger individuals. People who are 20 to 24 years of age had the highest cases of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder. This is likely due to unemployment and school closures disproportionately affecting young people and their abilities to interact with their peers.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many existing inequalities, and social determinants of mental health,” said study author Alize Ferrari in a news release.
Areas that were hit hardest by the pandemic also tended to have higher rates of pandemic-induced depression and anxiety, as these were often the same areas that had strict lockdowns, the researchers found.
The study is not without its limitations. It largely focused on high-income countries and the researchers acknowledge that their study was limited by a lack of data focusing on low and middle-income countries. In addition, most of the data was based on self-reported symptoms.
Nonetheless, the researchers say their findings underscore the need for policymakers to strengthen mental health systems.
“Promoting mental wellbeing, targeting factors contributing to poor mental health that have been made worse by the pandemic, and improving treatment for those who develop a mental disorder should be central to efforts to improve support services. Even before the pandemic, mental health-care systems in most countries have historically been under-resourced and disorganised in their service delivery,” said lead author Damian Santomauro in the news release.
“Meeting the added demand for mental health services due to COVID-19 will be challenging but taking no action should not be an option.”
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