We may not have been as anxious and depressed in the first year of the pandemic as we thought.

“The conventional expectation was that depression and mental distress would increase dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and some early research appeared to be consistent with that expectation,” said Ruhm, who partnered with lead author Ronald C. Kessler, from Harvard. and Kessler’s colleagues at Harvard Medical School. “However, the data on which these conclusions were based may have issues and so we wanted to see if these results would be verified when using better data.”

To get an early indication of how the pandemic was affecting people, several research groups conducted online surveys — among the best known, the CDC’s Household Pulse Survey, a survey begun in April 2020 to track the effects of COVID-19. 19 in US residents.

When compared to previous government studies, such as telephone surveys in the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a state-based monthly trend survey, the Household Pulse appeared to register dramatic increases in the severity of anxiety and depression. Findings were based on self-reported responses to questions that track clinical patterns.

But now that consistent BRFSS phone interview data has been analyzed comparing 2020 with corresponding periods in 2017, 2018 and 2019, it appears that there have been, at best, modest increases in the number of people suffering from anxiety and depression.

The reason for the difference between the Household Pulse Survey and telephone surveys may lie in the response rate among the studied populations.

The paper notes that Household Pulse “uses an online survey with only a 2% to 10% response rate. The Census Bureau documentation clearly states that it is dangerous to compare HPS results with previous government surveys because of the low HPS response rate.”

Ruhm added: “These results imply that we need to develop a much more nuanced understanding of how catastrophic events such as COVID-19 affect mental health. It can be problematic to draw conclusions that seem intuitive and obvious, which may or may not necessarily be correct, in part because this can lead to misallocation of effort and financial resources intended to provide relief.”

The team noted that the new, more modest results could still mask large increases in mental health problems among key populations such as first responders, and that potential increases in anxiety and depression could be greater in 2021 and 2022, once data is available. available.

We may not have been as anxious and depressed in the first year of the pandemic as we thought.

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