Researchers found that the percentage of US adults reporting mild, moderate or severe symptoms tripled over the last eight months.
Having a lower income, less than $5,000 in savings or stressors such as losing a job increased the odds of depression symptoms during COVID-19 by up to 2.5-fold.
The team, from Boston University School of Public Health, says a higher emphasis needs to be placed on mental health services and preventive services to mitigate feeling of anxiety or sadness before they begin.
A new study found that, before the COVID-19 pandemic, 8.5% of participants reported depression symptoms compared to 27.8% during the pandemic (file image)
All categories from mild to severe saw an increase, but the percentage of those with severe symptoms rose the most at five-fold from 0.7% to 5.1% (above)
Depression is a serious mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness and affects the ability to go about daily activities.
It often begins during teenage years, with as many as one in 11 cases occurring by age 14, and it may recur during adulthood.
Symptoms of depression, coupled with poor mental health, has been linked to premature deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicide.
For the study, published in JAMA Network Open, the team used two population-based surveys of US adults aged 18 or older.
Pre-pandemic estimates were attained from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which was conducted between 2017 and 2018 with more than 5,000 participants.
Estimates during the pandemic came from the more than 1,400 participants of the COVID-19 and Life Stressors Impact on Mental Health and Well-being study, which was conducted from March 31 to April 13.
Depression symptoms were categorized as none, mild, moderate, moderately severe and severe.
Before COVID-19, 8.5 percent of participants had depression symptoms compared to 27.8 percent during COVID-19 – which is a three-fold increase.
Women continued to be more likely to have depression symptoms than men.
Before the pandemic, 10.1 percent of women reported symptoms compared to 6.9 percent of men. During the pandemic, 33.3 percent of women reported symptoms in comparison with 21.9 percent of men.
Prevalence of depression symptoms was higher in every category from mild to severe during COVID-19.
The percentage of those with mild symptoms rose from 16.2 percent to 24.6 percent while those with moderate symptoms doubled from 5.7 percent to 14.8 percent.
Moderately severe symptom percentages more than tripled from 2.1 percent to 7.9 percent and the highest increase was seen among those with severe symptoms, increasing five-fold from 0.7 percent to 5.1 percent.
Additionally, participants of lower socioeconomic backgrounds had higher odds of depression symptoms compared to participants with higher social and economic resources.
Individuals with a household incomes of $20,000 or less had 2.4-fold increased odds of depression symptoms than those with an income of $75,000 or more.
Results also showed that people with savings of less than $5,000 had 1.5-fold greater odds of symptoms than those with more than $5,000.
Stressors such as losing a job, the death of a loved one to COVID-19 or having financial problems also increased the odds of depression symptoms.
‘This suggests that the impact of COVID-19 on the US population may be substantially larger than that after other large-scale events,’ the authors wrote.
‘This may reflect the greater ubiquity of COVID-19 and its effects on the US population than prior recorded large-scale traumatic events.’
They add that not only is a greater emphasis on mental health services needed but also that health professionals should consider more preventative action to help mitigate the effects of depression on the general population.