Trending Clinical Topic: COVID-Linked Depression

Ryan Syrek


August 14, 2020

Each week, we identify one top search term, speculate about what caused its popularity, and provide an infographic on a related condition. If you have thoughts about what's trending and why, share them with us on Twitter or Facebook. Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

From what has been called a "staggering" increase in COVID-linked depression and anxiety to a new study correlating mood changes to central nervous system (CNS) penetration by the novel coronavirus, the overlap between mental health and the pandemic took center stage this week.

New data from a voluntary online mental health screen, released by Mental Health America (MHA), found a dramatic increase in depression, anxiety, psychosis, and suicidality. As of the end of June, more than 169,000 additional participants reported having moderate to severe depression or anxiety, compared with participants who completed the screen prior to the pandemic. In June alone, 18,000 additional participants were found to be at risk for psychosis.

In a press release, Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of MHA, said, "The problem is bigger than anyone imagined." The biggest problems were seen among adults younger than 25 years. Approximately 90% screened positive for moderate to severe depression, and 80% screened positive for moderate to severe anxiety.

A separate, cross-sectional study of more than 100 adults with COVID-19 found that depression and anxiety may reflect penetration of the CNS by the novel coronavirus (see Infographic below). The findings suggest that changes in mood could indicate more than an emotional response to the disease itself. The researchers concluded that depression and anxiety "may be harbingers of more dire COVID-19 outcomes."

Long-term effects of these mood changes and mental health issues are particularly concerning, as one third of outpatients with COVID-19 are unwell weeks later. According to survey results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35% of adults with symptomatic coronavirus infection had not returned to their usual state of wellness when they were interviewed 2-3 weeks after testing. Psychiatric conditions such as depression were significantly correlated with prolonged recovery.

College students are among the many experiencing significant increases in depression. In a survey of students regarding COVID-19 and its impact on mental health, published this past spring by Active Minds, 91% of students reported having stress or anxiety, 81% were disappointed or sad, and 80% said they felt lonely or isolated.

Experts recently discussed an "echo pandemic" of mental illness and suicide that may be coming in the wake of COVID-19. Lorenzo Norris, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University, described the combination of economic, social, and health threats occurring simultaneously as the equivalent of "getting hit by an earthquake, a tsunami, and a famine at the same time."

As the pandemic continues, concerns about lingering mental health effects are only increasing. A focus on mood changes in particular made COVID-linked depression this week's top trending clinical topic.

Read more clinical information about depression.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.