A recent study shows that teens with depression didn’t experience any worsening symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, depression scores for healthy volunteers increased during the pandemic. These findings from a recent analysis were published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
The pandemic is a major environmental stressor presumed to have a severe impact on children, adolescents, and adults with pre-existing depression. Studies to date have not definitively confirmed this assumption.
To better understand the impact of the pandemic on teens with pre-existing clinical depression, the researchers analyzed data from the National Institute of Mental Health Characterization and Treatment of Depression (NIMH CAT-D) cohort, which was a longitudinal study that started before the pandemic. The researchers also used adolescent- and parent-reported behaviors in the CoRonavIruS Health Impact Survey (CRISIS). The researchers compared depression and anxiety scores before and during the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, healthy volunteers reported mean depression scores of 1.76 (95% CI = 0.40, 3.13), and adolescents with depression reported mean depression scores of 11.16 (95% CI = 10.10, 12.22). During the pandemic, the healthy volunteers’ score rose by 1.16 points (95% CI = 0.10, 2.23, P =.032) and the scores for adolescents with depression dropped slightly (0.89 points, 95% CI = 0.08, 1.70, P =0.032). Patient-reported data showed similar results. Anxiety in teens both with and without depression remained about the same.
The researchers note that about a third of adolescents with depression received cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) during the study. A sensitivity analysis showed that including these participants did not alter the results.
Although the study included frequent measurements, it was limited to patients in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The narrow geographic area also meant the diversity of the sample size did not mirror the US population overall, as the study had a higher proportion of Asian participants and fewer Latino participants than the country’s demographic makeup.
While the researchers gained insight into the effect of the pandemic on teens with depression, “future work is needed to track the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic long term across a range of diagnoses, regions, co-occurring stressors, and living conditions,” they noted.
Sadeghi N, Fors PQ, Eisner L, et al. Mood and behaviors of adolescents with depression in a longitudinal study before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2022;S0890-8567(22)00195-2. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2022.04.004