Anxiety and Depression Increases During COVID-19 Highest Among Young Adults

Woman with face mask in her home during stay at home order. Cleaning, and longing to get outside. COVID-19. March 2020
Large outbreaks of disease have historically been associated with mental health issues. The researchers looked at the percentage of adults who had symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Household Pulse Survey (HPS) data confirms that symptoms of anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic rose from 36.4% to 41.5%, according to a report published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly.

The researchers analyzed data in 2-week periods between August 19, 2020 and February 1, 2021. They used the HPS rapid-response online survey developed by the United States Census Bureau and other federal agencies.

The researchers evaluated self-reported data from adults age 18 years and older. Questions were based on the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-4) for depres­sion and anxiety. The survey included 2 phases and a total of 790,633 individuals.

During August 19–31, 2020, through December 9–21, 2020, significant increases were observed in the percentages of adults who reported experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder (from 31.4% to 36.9%), depressive disorder (from 24.5% to 30.2%), and at least one of these disorders (from 36.4% to 42.4%).

During that time period, more adults (22.4% to 25%) reported taking prescription medications or receiving mental health counseling. More adults said they needed, but did not receive counseling (9.2% to 12.4%).

While the researchers found an increase in symptoms among all demographic groups, the trend was highest among individuals aged 18 to 29 and those with less than a high school education.

Limitations include the fact that data are based on self-reports and not confirmed by health professionals. Also, the predictive validity of the scales has not been confirmed when adapted from a 2-week to 1-week time frame. In addition, the HPS did not assess a cause for the symptoms — a direct association with COVID-19 cannot be confirmed.

“Continued near real-time monitoring of mental health trends by demographic characteristics is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the researchers concluded. “These trends might be used to evaluate the impact of strategies that address mental health status and care of adults during the pandemic and to guide interventions for groups that are disproportionately affected.”


Vahratian A, Blumberg SJ, Terlizzi EP, Schiller JS. Symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder and use of mental health care among adults during the COVID-19 pandemic – United States, August 2020-February 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. Published online April 2, 2021. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7013e2