US cases of depression have tripled during the COVID-19 pandemic

A large study finds a dramatic increase in the number of adults in the United States reporting symptoms of depression during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Share on PinterestRecent data indicate that the number of adults with depression symptoms in the U.S. has increased threefold during the pandemic.

The number of adults experiencing depression in the U.S. has tripled, according to a major study. Researchers estimate that more than 1 in 4 U.S. adults now report experiencing symptoms of depression.

Before the pandemic, 8.5% of U.S. adults reported being depressed. That number has risen to 27.8% as the country struggles with COVID-19.

Prof. Sandro Galea, a dean at Boston University (BU) School of Public Health, MA, is senior author of the study.

“Depression in the general population after prior large-scale traumatic events has been observed to, at most, double,” he notes.

While reports of depression have increased in response to earlier crises, such as the 9/11 attack and the spread of Ebola in West Africa, the extent of this recent finding is something new.

The study features in the journal JAMA Network Open. The Rockefeller Foundation–Boston University 3-D Commission and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided funding for the research.

About the study

The BU study is the first large-scale investigation into America’s mental health in response to COVID-19.

To measure the prevalence of depression symptoms among the population, the researchers worked with mental health professionals’ leading tool for this purpose: the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9).

The researchers used the 2017–2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) as a baseline measurement of depression rates before the beginning of the pandemic. A total of 5,065 individuals responded to that survey.

They compared these data with the findings of the COVID-19 and Life Stressors Impact on Mental Health and Well-being (CLIMB) study, which surveyed 1,441 U.S. adults between March 31 and April 13, 2020. This study also used PHQ-9, facilitating the comparison of changes in the prevalence of depression among the population.

Although the 2020 survey took place relatively early in the pandemic, by the time it was complete, stay-at-home advisories and shelter-in-place orders were in place for about 96% of the public.


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