Increase in Prevalence of Depression Symptoms in the United States During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and the policies to contain it are pervasive, but the effects on depression symptoms are largely unknown.

The prevalence of depression symptoms in the US is 3-fold higher during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic than before, according to results of a study published in JAMA Network Open.

Studies have shown that mass traumatic events impact mental health disproportionately across populations, but the mental health of the US population at large during COVID-19 has not yet been evaluated.

To assess the burden of and factors impacting depression symptoms in the US during COVID-19, data from 1441 survey participants (49.8% women) were analyzed. A nationally representative group of US adults ≥18 years of age were included. For comparison with pre-COVID-19 levels of depression symptoms, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2017-2018 were used.

A total of 27.8% of included individuals had depression symptoms during COVID-19 compared with 8.5% before COVID-19, representing a 3-fold higher prevalence in general. Higher levels of depression symptoms were observed in all demographic groups during COVID-19 compared with before. Having more resources was associated with a lower prevalence of depression symptoms both before and during COVID-19.

Married individuals reported significantly lower rates of depression symptoms compared with widowed, divorced, or separated individuals (P =.003) and individuals who were never married (P =.008). Individuals in the lowest income category had significantly higher depression symptoms than individuals in the highest income category (P =.007). Similar rates were observed in individuals with <$5000 of household savings compared with individuals with ≥$5000 in savings (P =.04).

The results of this study indicated that the prevalence of depression symptoms in the US increased >3-fold during the COVID-19 pandemic from 8.5% to 27.8%. This increase is higher than that recorded after previous mass traumatic events, which may reflect a greater ubiquity of COVID-19 and a more significant impact on the social and economic consequences on the population at large compared with other large-scale traumatic events. Individuals with low income and fewer resources may experience a greater prevalence of major depressive disorder in the coming months.

Limitations to this study include its assessment of different individuals at the two time points through the use of separate data sources. Additionally, regional differences in depression symptoms were not analyzed.


Ettman CK, Abdalla SM, Cohen GH, Sampson L, Vivier PM, Galea S. Prevalence of depression symptoms in US adults before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. [published online September 2, 2020]. JAMA Netw Open. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.19686

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor