Even after Lockdowns Eased, Pandemic Depression Persisted across Social Classes

A new study finds that adults in the U.S. reported the same levels of depression a year into the pandemic as they did at the outset.

Covid-19 and the lockdown not only affected our physical health, but also our mental health. The isolation, not being able to do normal enjoyable activities, and not being able to see family and friends left many people feeling sad and lonely. Researched showed that 1 in 5 U.S. adults reported probable depression in the spring of 2020.        Catherine Ettman and Sandro Galea launched a national study in March of 2020 which measured mental health and assets. At the time, 27.8% of adult in the United States reported symptoms of losing interest in activities or feeling down and hopeless. This number was over three times as high as the national average before the pandemic of 8.5%.

As spring 2021 rolled around, the researchers believed that numbers would have dropped, seeing that people were returning to work, children were in school, and most importantly a vaccine was available, and doctors were finding better ways to treat COVID-19. As the research continued, the number did not decrease but rather increased to 32.8% of U.S. adults reporting symptoms of depression. Combined together, the 2021 number concluded that 20.3% of people had experienced depression in 2020 and 2021, suggesting that the pandemic had driven many to poor mental health.

The research team was also interested in the financial and social assets that may influence people’s mental health during the pandemic, so in their first survey they concluded that people that came into the pandemic with fewer assets, especially financial assets, were more likely to be affected by COVID-19 related stress. In their follow up survey in April of 2021, the team wanted to see the relationship between mental health and asset status. “We looked at financial assets such as personal savings, physical assets such as home ownership and social assets of education and marital status. We compared people who were similar in terms of marriage, education and home ownership. We found that people in households earning less than US$20,000 a year were 3.5 times as likely to report persistent depression symptoms as those making $75,000. We also found that people who had $5,000 or more in savings or a bank account reported less persistent depression. Having more assets, however, did not reduce the depression-inducing stress of losing a job, suffering relationship problems or experiencing financial difficulties during the pandemic” (Ettman 22).

The next step for the team is to explore the areas of overlap between those who started the pandemic with less and then with those who suffered great losses during the pandemic, like job losses, financial difficulties, deaths of family members, and relationship problems. “People who have fewer assets are the ones most at risk of depression, especially depression that lasts over time with social upheaval. Assets can be a cushion, but even they did not protect people from the harmful effects of stressors brought on by the pandemic. Our research shows that although the pandemic seems to be easing, Americans are still suffering. And they may continue to feel ill effects on their mental health for a long time to come” (Ettman 22).

By: Beth Gray