In the clearest link yet between the Covid-19 pandemic and mental illness, researchers have found that depression and anxiety disorders grew dramatically worldwide in 2020, with larger increases in countries most affected by the pandemic.
Cases of major depressive disorder (MDD) were 28% higher than what might have occurred in 2020 without the pandemic, and cases of anxiety disorders were 26% higher, according to an analysis of four dozen studies from around the world, which was published Friday in the Lancet.
Countries with higher infection rates and, in a proxy for lockdowns, had less movement—measured by cell phone location data—suffered a larger increase in MDD and anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
There were larger increases among women than men, researchers said, because women have shouldered more extra work from the pandemic—including taking care of children, caring for sick family members and cooking and cleaning for households spending more time at home—in addition to being more likely to lose their job and become a victim of domestic violence, which increased during the pandemic.
Young people also suffered larger increases in MDD and anxiety disorders because school closures cut them off from friends and because they, like women, faced a higher risk of getting laid off.
The study results show an “urgent need to strengthen mental health systems in order to address the growing burden of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders worldwide,” Dr. Damian Santomauro, the review’s lead author and a researcher at the University of Queensland’s school of public health, said in a press release. “Even before the pandemic, mental health-care systems in most countries have historically been under-resourced and disorganized in their service delivery.”
129 million. That’s how many additional cases of MDD and anxiety disorders there were in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, according to the researchers’ model of cases that would have occurred in a normal year.
Research has shown increasingly strong links between mental health and Covid-19. People with mental disorders were, after accounting for other health conditions, 1.4 times as likely to die from Covid-19—1.7 times as likely if they had a serious mental illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia—according to a July study in JAMA Psychiatry. Nearly a quarter of people with Covid-19 showed symptoms of depression, and 16% showed symptoms of anxiety, researchers found in a review of 215 studies published in the BMJ Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery Psychiatry. Visits for postpartum depression between March and November 2020 increased by as much as 39% compared to before the pandemic, according to a study of more than 137,000 women in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.