As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, a new survey shows that depression is worsening across the nation and the Mountain West.
Researchers at Harvard, Rutgers, Northeastern and Northwestern universities are conducting nationwide surveys about people's changing thoughts and feelings in response to the COVID-19 crisis. By asking screening questions generally used by doctors, they found that more than 27% of people in the U.S. are exhibiting symptoms of moderate to severe depression. That's more than three times the rate before the pandemic.
Roy Perlis, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School and co-author of the report, said many respondents had symptoms great enough to warrant care, and he hopes they seek it out.
"It's not just that people feel stressed out, it's that some people are experiencing symptoms in a range that they might need evaluation and they might need treatment," Perlis said. "From my perspective of a psychiatrist, the message is: First, there are lots of people experiencing symptoms of depression. And second, there are treatments out there."
Idaho has some of the nation's highest suicide rates, and according to this survey, now also has the highest rates of depression symptoms in the region. More than 28% of respondents there reported symptoms.
Other states in the Mountain West have much lower rates. Perlis says that correlates with how much the pandemic has affected their daily lives. Montana saw the lowest rate in the nation, with about 12% of survey respondents reporting depression symptoms. However, that's still double what's been observed in the state before.
In Colorado, a quarter of those who participated in the survey reported having symptoms of moderate to severe depression. That's lower than the current national rate during the pandemic, but far higher than before COVID-19.
In the long term, Perlis said, spikes in things like depression usually don't just go away, and this could be something we're dealing with years down the line.
“Unfortunately, data from other countries from past disasters, and frankly even data from the U.S. for things like 9/11, suggests we don’t necessarily go back to baseline,” he said. “And that there are an awful lot of people who sustain consequences that we’ll probably be dealing with for years.”
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.