Sandro Galea, MD, is a physician and epidemiologist who knows trauma: He has studied people’s mental health in the aftermath of, among other earth-shattering events, 9/11, hurricanes, and civil unrest. In March and April 2020, the Boston University School of Public Health dean conducted one of the first mental health surveys of Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic. Galea found that in those early months, depression rates in the United States had more than tripled compared to the years prior, up from 8.5% to 27.8%.
“We were anticipating to find elevated rates, because we know that [depression increases in prevalence] from other large-scale events, but the threefold increase was surprising,” Galea says. “Typically, in general populations after these events, you’d expect about a doubling, so the threefold increase was surprising, no question.”
Anyone who’s lived through the past year could tell you that March and April were not a blip. More recent research indicates that depression rates have remained consistently elevated during the pandemic, ranging between 23.5% and 30.2%, depending on the month. The latest numbers from February place the national average at 27.9%. This data comes from the Household Pulse Survey, a weekly mental health screen of roughly 73,000 Americans conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau that started in April 2020. Visits to hospital emergency departments for suicide attempts and drug overdoses have also spiked, increasing by 6% and 17%, respectively, from 2019 to 2020.
“You’ve lost social contact; you may have lost loved ones; you may have lost your job. All of these things are conspiring to really negatively hit our brain.”
There’s no doubt about it — people are struggling. Just writing that statement feels like the understatement of the year. Of course we are! We’re about to enter year two of a pandemic that has…