More than one in five US adults reported probable depression in the spring of 2020 and the spring of 2021. Financial assets reduced the persistence of symptoms, but only to a point.

Our recent research shows the continued effects of COVID-19 on the US population.

The national study measuring mental health and assets was launched in 2020. Deaths were on the rise and it was a national emergency. Americans were urged to stay home as schools, offices and government offices closed.

In our study, we found that almost 30% of US adults had symptoms of depression, such as losing interest in activities or feeling down. The national pre-pandemic depression estimate was less than a tenth of a percent.

Depression rates remained high even though there were signs of a decline in infections and deaths. Efforts to reopen society were under way in April 2021, as people lined up for vaccine shots. The share of adults who said they had symptoms of depression had gone up.

In April 2020 and April 2021, 20.3 percent of people had reported symptoms of depression. The finding shows that poor mental health was prevalent and persistent.

We wanted to know which assets might be affecting people's mental health during the Pandemic. In our first survey, we found that people with relatively few assets were more likely to be affected by COVID-19-related stresses.

We were interested in the relationship between mental health and asset status. We looked at financial assets such as personal savings, physical assets such as home ownership, and social assets such as education and marital status. People who were similar in terms of marriage, education and home ownership were compared.

People who make less than US$20,000 a year are 3.5 times more likely to report depression symptoms than people who make more.

People with more than $5,000 in savings or a bank account reported less depression. Having more assets did not reduce the stress of losing a job, suffering relationship problems or experiencing financial difficulties.

Why it matters

Over one million US lives have been lost and over five million hospitalizations have been recorded. Measuring the effect of the Pandemic on the nation's mental health is just beginning. The impact on the nation's mental health is unprecedented.

What's next

The next step is to look at areas of overlap between those who started the Pandemic with less assets and those who suffered job losses, relationship problems or financial difficulties.

Depression that lasts over time with social upheaval is most likely to affect people who have fewer assets. Assets do not protect people from the harmful effects of stressors brought on by the Pandemic.

Americans are still suffering despite the fact that the Pandemic seems to be easing. They may feel bad effects on their mental health for a long time to come.

Professor of Family Medicine at Boston University and PhD Candidate Catherine Ettman.

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