LONDON – The COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in anxiety and severe depressive disorders worldwide, especially among women and young people, a study published in The Lancet on Friday found.
Young people suffered because school closings kept them away from their friends, and many women found themselves enduring the brunt of domestic work and facing an increased risk of domestic violence, the researchers said.
The study, led by academics from the University of Queensland, Australia, recorded an additional 76 million cases of anxiety disorders and 53 million major depressive disorders as COVID-19 spread in 2020.
“Unfortunately, for numerous reasons, women were always more likely to be more affected by the social and economic consequences of the pandemic,” said study co-author Alize Ferrari.
“Domestic and additional care responsibilities tend to fall on women, and because women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, which increased at different stages of the pandemic.”
School closures and other restrictions limited the “ability of young people to learn and interact with their peers,” he added.
The research included 48 previously conducted studies around the world and pooled its findings in a meta-analysis to quantify the prevalence of mental health disorders in 204 countries and territories in 2020.
That made it “the first global information on the burden of depressive and anxiety disorders during the pandemic,” said the authors of a linked comment who were not involved in the study.
It found that there was an estimated 28% increase in cases of major depressive disorder, to 246 million cases, compared to an estimated 193 million cases if the pandemic had not happened.
There was a similar 26% increase in estimated cases of anxiety, with an estimated 374 million cases compared to 298 million without the pandemic.
The study authors cautioned that high-quality data on the mental health impact of the pandemic were lacking in many poorer countries, and estimates extrapolated for those countries should be interpreted with caution.
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