Anxiety, depression spiral due to COVID-19, women hit worse than men: study
Alok Gupta

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on people's mental health, with cases of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders spiraling by more than a quarter in 2020. 

While the cases of major depressive disorder – depression – shot up by 53 million, there were around 76 million additional cases of anxiety disorder, according to a study published in The Lancet on Saturday, one day before World Mental Health Day.

Compared to the pre-pandemic year, cases of depression and anxiety increased by 28 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

The trend was worst among women: around 35 million slipped into depression during the pandemic, nearly double the number of men at 18 million.

Similarly, when it came to anxiety, 52 million women were facing the condition, compared to half as many men (24 million), according to the global study, which is the first to measure the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many existing inequalities, and social determinants of mental health," said Alize Ferrari, co-author of the study. "Sadly, for numerous reasons, women were always more likely to be worse affected by the social and economic consequences of the pandemic."

Interestingly, researchers also found a correlation between the infection rate and mental health. The study said that countries witnessing a high number of COVID-19 cases imposed stricter lockdowns, leading to increased mental health disorders.

"Our findings highlight an urgent need to strengthen mental health systems in order to address the growing burden of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders worldwide," said Dr. Damian Santomauro, lead author of the study.

"Even before the pandemic, mental health care systems in most countries have historically been under-resourced and disorganized in their service delivery," he said.

"Meeting the added demand for mental health services due to COVID-19 will be challenging, but taking no action should not be an option."

Surprisingly, the study also found younger people were more affected by depression and anxiety in 2020 than older age groups. There were an additional 1,118 per 100,000 cases of depression and 1,331 per 100,000 additional cases of anxiety in the young age category.

School closures and wider restrictions limiting the ability of young people to learn and interact with their peers, combined with the increased risk of unemployment, took a toll on young people's mental health, said Ferrari.

(Cover: A man walks by a social distancing sign on the first day of New Zealand's new COVID-19 safety measure that mandates wearing a mask on public transport, in Auckland, New Zealand, August 31, 2020. /Reuters)

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