Depression rates more than double pre-pandemic levels

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Rates of depression have more than doubled since before the coronavirus pandemic, with young people – especially women – hit the hardest, figures suggest.

More than a fifth (21%) of people aged 16 and over in Britain experienced some form of depression between January 27 and March 7, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is up from 10% before the pandemic, between July 2019 and March 2020.

The ONS analysed responses from 23,935 people aged 16 and over in 2021 and compared them to data collected before and during the pandemic.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Younger adults and women were more likely to experience some form of depression, with 43% of women aged 16 to 29 and 26% of men of the same age experiencing symptoms.

Among people aged 16 to 39 the figure was 29%, up from 11%, while for those with a disability the figure was 39%, up from 27%.

Some 25% of people living in a single-person household experienced depression in early 2021, up from 15% before the pandemic.

For those living in a household with at least one child under 16, the proportion more than tripled – from 6% to 23%.

Some 28% of adults living in England’s most deprived areas experienced depressive symptoms, compared with 17% in the least deprived parts.

Separate ONS figures published on Wednesday show that diagnoses of depression by GPs in England between March 23 and August 31 last year fell by 23.7% compared with the same period in 2019.

Depression accounted for 15.6% of total diagnoses over the period – a rise of 1.3 percentage points.

Those aged 45-54 saw the largest fall in the number of diagnoses – a 30.1% decrease.

As a percentage of all diagnoses, the Chinese ethnic group saw the largest percentage point change in depression diagnoses of all ethnicities, with an increase of 4.0 percentage points.

People living in the second most deprived areas saw an increase of 1.5 percentage points in depression diagnoses as a percentage of all diagnoses.

Theodore Joloza, ONS principal research officer, said: “While the number of GP-diagnosed cases of adult depression has fallen during the pandemic, these cases make up a larger percentage of overall diagnoses than pre-pandemic.

“Meanwhile self-reported feelings associated with depression continue to increase.

“The picture is one of a rising toll on mental health, with many people not necessarily accessing medical help.”

Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national mental health director, said access to talking therapies has remained available throughout the pandemic, and investment in mental health services continues to grow.

She said: “We know at the peak of the pandemic last year some people may understandably have been more reluctant to seek help, but the number of appointments has now returned to pre-pandemic levels and we continue to encourage people to come forward if they’re concerned about their mental health.”

Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, said: “The fact that GP-diagnosed cases of adult depression have fallen during the pandemic suggests people are not going to their GP for help, perhaps because they’re concerned about placing extra pressure on the NHS.

“This is worrying because we know that left untreated, mental health problems become more difficult and expensive to treat.

“If you notice changes to your thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are affecting your daily life, last longer than two weeks, or keep returning – talk to someone you trust, ideally your GP.”

Joe Levenson, director of campaigns and communications at the Young Women’s Trust, said the ONS figures are “deeply worrying” and correlate with its own research.

He continued: “This comes as no surprise given the extreme pressures facing young women in the wake of the pandemic as they cope with loss of income, increased caring responsibilities and job insecurity.

“We are calling for the Government to ensure no young woman is left behind as the country seeks to recover from the pandemic.

“This means investing in jobs and training, ensuring no young women are left struggling financially and responding with properly funded, accessible mental health support which is tailored to young women’s experiences.”

Sense chief executive Richard Kramer said the Government must provide a recovery plan for people with disabilities, adding: “Many disabled people have been shielding and living without their usual levels of support for more than a year, causing great anxiety and leaving them isolated, lonely and, as this data shows, depressed.

“No disabled person should have to experience mental health inequality.”

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