New studies show that mood disorders increase the risk of serious COVID disease and death

It is internationally well documented that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented impact on the mental health of broad sections of the world’s population. This includes people with pre-existing mental health problems as well as those who were not previously affected before the corona crisis.

A new study published this month in The Lancet sought to quantify the global prevalence and burden of depression and anxiety disorders, and found significant increases worldwide. The study was a systematic review of published data that reported the prevalence of depression and anxiety before the pandemic, and compared this using 48 articles published during the first 12 months of the 2020 pandemic.

Healthcare workers transport a COVID-19 patient from an intensive care unit (ICU) at a hospital in Kyjov to the hospital in Brno, Czech Republic at the end of last year (AP Photo / Petr David Josek)

The study, conducted by investigators from the Queensland Center for Mental Health Research and the University of Queensland in Australia, presented data from 204 countries and territories. If the pandemic did not occur, model estimates suggest that there would have been 193 million cases of major depressive disorder (2,471 cases per 100,000 population) globally by 2020.

However, the results of the study show that there were 246 million cases (3,153 per 100,000), an increase of 28 percent, an increase of 53 million cases. Similarly, the number of anxiety cases increased by 76 million, 26 percent above expectations if there had not been a pandemic. More than 35 million of the additional cases were in women, compared to close to 18 million in men.

The study also showed that younger people were more affected by severe depression and anxiety disorders by 2020 than older age groups. The additional incidence of both disorders peaked among those aged 20-24 years, which resulted in 1,118 additional cases of major depressive disorder per year. 100,000 and 1,331 additional cases of anxiety disorders per. 100,000. This was found to decrease with increasing age.

Further, the study showed that some regions of the world fared worse than others, especially those experiencing military conflict such as North Africa and the Middle East. The latter recorded the largest increase in depression at 37 percent. South Asia experienced the largest increase in anxiety at 35%.

The increased prevalence was associated with increasing COVID-19 infection rates as well as declining human mobility. The authors cited, among other things, “the combined effects of the spread of the virus, shutdowns, orders to stay at home, reduced public transportation, school and business closures, and reduced social interactions.” It was further estimated that countries that were more negatively affected by the pandemic during 2020 were those with the largest increase in these disorders.

The study’s lead author, Dr Damian Santomauro, said in a press release “Our findings highlight an urgent need to strengthen mental health systems to address the growing burden of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders worldwide.”

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