“People with lower income were twice as likely to have depression, and people with the same income but who had less savings were 1.5 times more likely to have depression,” said lead researcher Catherine Ettman, director of strategic development at Boston University’s School of Public Health.
“We were surprised at the high levels of depression,” she said. “These rates were higher than what we’ve seen in the general population after other large-scale traumas like September 11 and Hurricane Katrina.”
The current pandemic is not just one event. With COVID there is fear, anxiety and dramatic economic consequences, especially among people with fewer resources, Ettman said.
“This calls for us paying attention to mental health problems that are arising at this moment that will need attention in the coming months and years,” she said.
For the study, the researchers used a survey of more than 1,400 people aged 18 and over who completed the COVID-19 and Life Stressors Impact on Mental Health and Well-Being survey, conducted March 31 to April 13.
That data was then compared with data on more than 5,000 people who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2017 to 2018.
Since the pandemic, 25% of responders reported being mildly depressed, compared with 16% before the pandemic. Fifteen percent were moderately depressed, compared with 6% before the pandemic.
There were 8% with moderately severe depression, compared with 2% before COVID-19 and 5% with severe depression, compared with less than 1% before COVID-19.
The risk for depression symptoms was highest among people with less than $5,000 in savings, the researchers found.
Ettman believes that in addition to more access to mental health care, programs that keep people’s heads above water economically are needed to ensure that they have the resources to weather through these times.