The Exchange

Commentary and Observations from
the Medical Front Lines

Anxiety and Depression Amid COVID

Anxiety and Depression Amid COVID

Lately, we've been hearing a lot about increases in anxiety and depression in the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I was curious about what data we have regarding anxiety, depression, and COVID—and I found out that we do, in fact, have data to support an increase in the number of adults with depression or anxiety since the beginning of the pandemic and economic downturn. The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that the share of adults reporting anxiety or depression has increased since the start of the pandemic: In July, 40% of adults age 18 and older reported signs of anxiety or depression. Younger adults were significantly more likely than older adults to report these symptoms.

In October 2020, the KFF released a report on older adults with anxiety or depression during the coronavirus pandemic. As older adults are at a higher risk for serious illness if infected and account for more than three-fourths of all COVID-related deaths, they have been significantly impacted by the pandemic. Contributing to this are current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that recommend older adults limit in-person social interactions as much as possible. While this may help in reducing disease spread, it also contributes to feelings of social isolation and loneliness. The most recent KFF tracking poll in July found that among adults aged 65 and older, close to half (46%) feel that worry and stress related to coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health—up from 31% in May.

Several things were interesting in the report. First, rates of depression and anxiety are higher among adults aged 65 and older relative to rates in 2018, with one in four reporting anxiety or depression during most weeks since the onset of the pandemic—an increase from the one in 10 older adults who reported anxiety or depression in 2018. Secondly, 24% of older adults reported anxiety and depression in August 2020, compared to 40% of younger adults. The KFF found that this difference is likely the result of younger adults having a higher likelihood of unemployment than older adults, as job loss is associated with increased depression, anxiety, distress, and low self-esteem.

Additionally, in patients older than 65 years of age, it was found that:

  • Women (28%) reported more feelings of anxiety and depression than men (20%)
  • Anxiety/depression was reported in higher rates in Hispanic adults (33%) than non-Hispanic White adults (23%), non-Hispanic Black adults (26%), or non-Hispanic Asian adults (17%)
  • Household income had an impact on feelings of anxiety/depression; nearly two times as many adults with an annual household income less than $25,000 reported feelings of anxiety/depression than those with an annual household income exceeding $100,000.
  • 48% of adults in poor or fair self-reported health reported anxiety or depression, compared to 24% of those in good self-reported health and 14% of those in excellent or very good self-reported health.
  • 27% adults who live alone reported anxiety or depression compared to 24% adults who live with others.

Now more than before, we must remember to screen all of our patients for signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety at every visit so that we can offer them the help and support they need during these exceptionally trying times.


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Filed under: Health Policy and Trends, Psychiatry

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