Study Finds Critical Need for Long-Term Mental Health Data During COVID-19 Pandemic

March 24, 2021
Aislinn Antrim, Associate Editor

Among surveyed American adults, more than half were diagnosable with probable depression at baseline, in addition to 65% who had anxiety and 51% at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Despite many warnings about the potential mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers say there is a lack of long-term data on these effects, as well as limited access to mental health care for those who need it.1

The pandemic may have significant long-term impacts on psychological distress and health behaviors, according to researchers at the Columbia University School of Nursing. Importantly, these effects could impact some demographic groups more than others.1

Investigators used data from a longitudinal international study of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on adults’ psychological distress and wellbeing. They found high rates of depression (55% were diagnosable with probable depression at baseline), anxiety (65%), and risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (51%).1

Furthermore, more than one-third of the participants who reported that they drank alcohol said that their drinking had increased since the beginning of the pandemic. Over time, depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts and behaviors also increased significantly, although acute stress symptoms decreased.1

According to the study results, people of color and sexual and gender minorities appeared to be at high risk of distress across analyses. Even at 5-month follow-up, the findings suggest high rates of depression, anxiety, acute stress, and other signs of distress such as isolation, hopelessness, and use of substances to cope.1

Similar findings have been noted in other studies, including a recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association. Their study found that adults in the United States are reporting undesired changes in weight, increased alcohol consumption, and other negative behavior changes that may be linked to prolonged stress.2

According to reporting by Pharmacy Times, 61% of adults experienced undesired weight gain or loss since the beginning of the pandemic, with 42% reporting that they gained more weight than intended.2 Furthermore, 67% reported sleeping more or fewer hours than desired since the beginning of the pandemic, and 23% responded that they drank more alcohol to cope with their stress.2

Based on their similar findings regarding stress and mental health, the Columbia University investigators concluded that there is a need to prioritize availability of, and access to, mental health care both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.1

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