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Intermountain study finds rise depression, anxiety among patients during pandemic

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Nov 16, 2021

Photo supplied, McKay-Dee Hospital

Unidentified healthcare workers at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden assist in the facility's COVID-19 section on Nov. 2, 2020.

SALT LAKE CITY — People have suffered from more depression and anxiety since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

That’s what researchers at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City concluded.

The study found depression remained a common problem and worsened for some people. An increase in emergency department visits for chest pain related to anxiety also increased.

Researchers examined 4,633 Intermountain Healthcare patients who completed a standard depression screening before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. For the purposes of the study, the pre-pandemic period looked at was from March 1, 2019, to Feb. 29, 2020, while dates examined during the pandemic were between March 1, 2020, and April 20, 2021.

Patients were separated into two groups: those with no depression or who were no longer depressed, and those who remained depressed or became depressed.

Using electronic health records, patients were assessed for follow-up emergency department visits for anxiety and chest pain.

The study found nearly 40% of the 4,633 patients said they had new or ongoing symptoms of depression during the first year of the pandemic. In addition, the odds of visiting the emergency department for anxiety was 2.8 times greater for people with depression than those without and 1.8 times greater for anxiety with chest pain compared to non-depressed patients.

The study, researchers said, is further evidence of the significance the pandemic has had on both the mental and physical well-being of Utahns.

“These findings are significant. In looking at the first year of the pandemic, we are already seeing the mental health effects on our patients,” said Heidi May, cardiovascular epidemiologist at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute and principal investigator of the study. “We already know that depression raises a person’s risk for developing cardiovascular disease and other chronic health problems, so this is very concerning and highlights the importance of screening patients and providing mental health resources that they need.”

May said it’s important to identify people with depression because it’s a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease. And if people are becoming more depressed because of the pandemic, she added, in a few years, health care workers could see a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease.

“Clinicians should be acutely aware of their patients’ mental health so that it can be addressed and treated immediately to improve the overall quality of their lives, and hopefully avoid the development of subsequent health problems in the future. This is vital because the pandemic is still not over,” she said.

Longer follow-up is needed to determine what the potential long-term effects from the pandemic may be on mental health, May said.

Other members of the Intermountain research team include Tami Bair, Viet Le, Dr. Joseph Muhlestein, Stacey Knight, Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, Dr. Kirk Knowlton and Benjamin Horne.

The study was presented at the American Heart Association’s virtual 2021 scientific session held over the weekend.

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