The COVID-19 pandemic has been ongoing since March 2020, leading to 609,195,806 confirmed cases and 6,592,280 deaths in the US so far. The consequences of this pandemic are far-reaching, including supply chain issues, financial problems and the public health debate. More and more attention is being paid to the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had not only on physical health, but also on mental health. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently released a report on the 2021 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which includes a chapter devoted to the perceived effects of the pandemic on mental health and substance use in The United States. .
NSDUH’s 250,000 respondents aged 18 and over were asked about the perceived negative effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on their emotional and mental health. Respondents were separated according to their depression status: people who had experienced a major depressive episode (MDE) in the previous year, people who had experienced an MDE with severe disability, and people who had not experienced an MDE. The response options regarding the severity of the impact were “not at all”, “a little or a little”, and “quite a bit or a lot”.
The distribution of the perceived adverse effect of the pandemic on mental health differed between pre-MDE and non-MDE groups (Figure 1). Of last year’s respondents with MDE, 12% were not affected by the pandemic, 42% were affected ‘somewhat’ and 46% were ‘affected’. Similarly, 12% of respondents with prior MDE and severe impairment reported no impact, 39% reported “some” impact, and 49% reported “quite a bit” impact. In contrast, respondents with no previous MDE were affected less severely and less frequently than previous MDE cohorts. In this group, 38% of people experienced no negative impact, 50% had “some” impact and 12% felt the pandemic had “a lot” of negative impact on their mental health.
Part of the reason mental health problems are more dramatic among those previously affected may be due to reduced access to mental health services during the pandemic. When asked about the impact of the pandemic on their access to mental health care, 41% of respondents experienced appointments moved from in-person to telehealth, 36% experienced postponed or canceled appointments, 14% experienced postponement of prescriptions and 9% responded that inability to access care resulted in a moderate to severe impact on their mental health.
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), a diagnosis of a major depressive disorder (MDD) requires an MDE, which represents at least five symptoms of depression experienced each day for at least two weeks . These symptoms include, but are not limited to, depressed mood, fatigue, loss of interest or pleasure, sleep disturbances, feelings of worthlessness, and suicidal thoughts. MDD can go undiagnosed and these symptoms qualify a person for MDD regardless of severity. GlobalData epidemiologists predicted there would be 7.6 million diagnosed prevalent cases of MDD in the US by 2021. However, there are many undiagnosed cases of MDD, so this figure may be even higher in light of the 2021 NSDUH report.