The prevalence of major depressive and anxiety disorders increased substantially due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a new study published in The Lancet has found.
Globally, the burden of these disorders had increased by 28% and 26% respectively. In India, depressive and anxiety disorders both saw an increase of 35%, the study noted. It also highlighted that women and the youth were most affected, and the cases were higher in regions with higher Covid-19 infection rates and reduced mobility due to stringent lockdowns.
A first such global estimate on mental health, the study was carried out using a disease modelling meta-analysis tool. It is a systematic literature review that looked at data sources from over 204 countries published between January 1, 2020, and January 29, 2021.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), major depressive disorder involves symptoms such as depressed mood, loss of interest and enjoyment, and decreased energy. Depending on the number and severity of symptoms, a depressive episode can be categorised as mild, moderate, or severe. The WHO defines anxiety disorders as a group of mental disorders characterised by feelings of anxiety and fear, including generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
If the Covid pandemic had not hit the world, there would have been 193 million cases (2,471 cases per lakh population) of major depressive disorder and 298 million cases (3825 cases per lakh) of anxiety disorders globally in 2020, the authors of the study estimated. But these numbers shot up to 246 million cases (3,153 cases per lakh) and 374 million cases (4,802 cases per lakh) respectively due to the pandemic, which meant that the world saw nearly 53 million additional cases of major depressive disorder and 76 million additional cases of anxiety disorders.
In India, the estimates in absence of the pandemic were 2,577 cases of major depressive disorder per lakh population and 3,013 cases of anxiety disorders per lakh population. However, due to the pandemic, the prevalence of major depressive disorder increased to 3,478 cases per lakh and anxiety disorders to 4,063 cases per lakh population.
“Covid-19 brought mental health issues to the forefront,” said Mumbai-based psychiatrist Dr Kersi Chavda. “As people were suddenly stuck at home, many symptoms that would have otherwise gone undiagnosed were detected. We noticed a rise in OCDs as well aggression. There were many cases of child abuse, spousal abuse and even abuse of senior citizens who were at home.”
According to Chavda, the easing of teleconsultation rules by the government was a positive development as it allowed many people to reach out for help through virtual consultations.
Kolkata-based psychiatrist Dr Gautam Saha, who is the president of the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) said the uncertainty and limited knowledge about Covid-19 in the initial few months, financial crisis due to loss of jobs and salary cuts, loneliness and disconnect triggered by the lockdown, altogether resulted in a burst of mental health issues. “A survey carried out by IPS had shown that nearly 10% population had depression and 38% had anxiety disorders and a large number of people were going through moderate to severe stress during first wave,” said Saha. “Promoting mental wellbeing, targeting factors contributing to poor mental health that have been made worse by the pandemic, and improving treatment for those who develop a mental disorder should be central to efforts to improve support services,” lead author Dr Damian Santomauro, of the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research, School of Public Health, University of Queensland, Australia, said.