Pandemic triggers over 125 million new cases of depression and


The coronavirus pandemic has triggered more than 125 million new cases of depression and anxiety disorders worldwide, new research suggests.

The first global estimate of the impact of Covid-19 on mental health says the prevalence of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders rose by 28% (+53 million) and 26% (+76 million), respectively, in 2020.

The study, published in the Lancet, found women and younger people were most affected, Wales Online reports.

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Researchers said the findings highlighted “an urgent need to strengthen mental health systems”.

Nations hit hardest by coronavirus, in terms of infection rates and lockdowns, had the greatest increases in mental health cases.

Even before the pandemic, major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders were “major contributors” to the global burden of disease, affecting millions of men and women of all ages around the world.

‘Taking no action should not be an option’

Study lead author Dr Damian Santomauro, of the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research in Australia, said: “Our findings highlight an urgent need to strengthen mental health systems in order to address the growing burden of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders worldwide.

“Promoting mental well-being, 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 healthcare systems in most countries have historically been under-resourced and disorganised in their service delivery.

“Meeting the added demand for mental health services due to Covid-19 will be challenging, but taking no action should not be an option.”

No previous studies had analysed the global impact of the pandemic on prevalence of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders in 2020.

The new study is the first to assess global impacts of the pandemic on major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders, quantifying the prevalence and burden of the disorders by age, sex, and location in 204 countries and territories.

The research team found that increased Covid-19 infection rates and reduced movement of people were associated with increased prevalence of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders, suggesting that countries hit hardest by the pandemic in 2020 had the greatest increases in prevalence of the disorders.

Without the pandemic, modelling suggests there would have been 193 million cases of major depressive disorder, or 2,471 cases per 100,000 population globally in 2020.

However, the analysis shows there were 246 million cases – 3,153 per 100,000 – an increase of 28% or an additional 53 million cases.

More than 35 million of the extra cases were in women, compared with just under 18 million in men.

Modelling suggests there would have been 298 million cases of anxiety disorders, or 3,825 per 100,000 population, globally in 2020 had the pandemic not happened.

But the analysis indicates there were an estimated 374 million cases – 4,802 per 100,000 – in 2020, an additional 76 million cases, equating to an increase of 26%.

Almost 52 million of the additional cases were in women, compared with around 24 million in men.

The additional prevalence of mental health disorders peaked among those aged 20 to 24 – 1,118 additional cases of major depressive disorder per 100,000 and 1,331 additional cases of anxiety disorders per 100,000 – and declined with increasing age.

‘Covid has exacerbated many existing inequalities’

Co-author Dr Alize Ferrari said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated many existing inequalities, and social determinants of mental health.

“Sadly, for numerous reasons, women were always more likely to be worse affected by the social and economic consequences of the pandemic.

“Additional caring and household responsibilities tend to fall on women, and because women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, which increased at various stages of the pandemic.”

She added: “School closures and wider restrictions limiting young people’s ability to learn and interact with their peers, combined with the increased risk of unemployment, also meant that young people were also more heavily impacted by major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders during the pandemic.

“It is crucial that policymakers take underlying factors such as these into account as part of measures to strengthen mental health services.”

Other mental health problems, such as eating disorders, may also have increased during the pandemic.

These should be assessed as new surveys are undertaken, according to the research team.

Dr Maxime Taquet and Professor Paul Harrison, of Oxford University, said the findings “starkly highlight” the impact of the pandemic on mental health globally.

Dr Taquet added: “The study should therefore urgently incentivise more research to determine the fuller geographic distribution of depression and anxiety, the prevalence of depressive and anxiety disorders, and the underpinning mechanisms to improve mental health in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic globally.”

Information and support for mental health can be found on the NHS website.

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