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Several Conditions Elevate Risk of COVID-19 Depression

November 02, 2020

Adults most at risk of experiencing moderate or severe depressive symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic include those experiencing abuse or low social support, those with low socioeconomic position, and those with preexisting mental and physical health conditions, suggests a study published online in JAMA Network Open.

“These findings suggest that mental health and socioeconomic interventions in the current or future pandemics should be targeted toward people with these risk factors,” advised researchers from University College London in England.

The cohort study was part of the ongoing COVID-19 Social Study, a large panel study of adults living in the United Kingdom. To investigate the psychological well-being among high risk groups, researchers used the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire to measure depressive symptoms on 7 occasions from March 21, 2020, to April 2, 2020.

Among 51,417 adults, 29% had moderate depressive symptoms and 11% had severe depressive symptoms. Odds ratios for severe depressive symptoms were 13.16 for people with experiences of physical or psychological abuse, 12.99 with preexisting mental health conditions, 12.72 with low social support, 5.22 with low socioeconomic position, and 3.41 with preexisting physical health conditions.

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Patterns of associations were similar for moderate depressive symptoms: odds ratios were 5.34 with abuse, 4.71 with low social support, 4.24 with mental health conditions, 1.97 with low socioeconomic position, and 1.89 with physical health conditions.

Interestingly, participants in essential worker roles were less likely to experience severe depressive symptoms. Researchers reported a 0.66 odds ratio for the group. 

“However, our essential worker measure was not limited to health care professions but also included other essential worker roles, such as teachers and transport workers, who might be experiencing different levels of work-related stress during the COVID-19 pandemic,” researchers wrote.

“Furthermore, it is possible that self-selection bias determined these findings, with only essential workers who are psychologically coping with the current demands of their roles taking the time to participate in the research.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Iob E, Frank P, Steptoe A, Fancourt D. Levels of severity of depressive symptoms among at-risk groups in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic. JAMA Network Open. 2020;3(10):e2026064.

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