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Number of adults experiencing depression doubles during pandemic

Number of adults experiencing depression doubles during pandemic
By Jess Hacker
6 May 2021

One in five (21%) of adults in the UK have reported experiencing some form of depression this year, double the number before the pandemic (10%), the latest figures show.

The largest increases in rates of depressive symptoms were among younger adults and people living with a child aged under 16 – 29% compared with pre-pandemic levels of 11%, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The dataset, published yesterday (5 May), was based on a sample of 25,835 people aged 16 and over, collected between January and March 2021.

It also showed that depression was experienced by a higher proportion of adults renting their home (31%) than adults who own their home (13%).

Meanwhile, more than a third (35%) of adults who reported having less disposable income experienced depressive symptoms, compared to 21% before the pandemic, the ONS found.

The data also revealed that over a quarter (28%) of adults living in the most deprived areas experienced depression symptoms, compared to 17% of adults in the least deprived areas.

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) said the figures showed the impact of the pandemic on many patients’ mental health, adding that surgeries were seeing both the direct mental health impact on patients who may have had Covid-19 and the indirect impact associated with lockdown restrictions.

‘The increasing numbers of patients presenting with mental health conditions is one example of the complexity of GP work during the pandemic – and highlights the need for GPs to have more time with their patients,’ he added.

He also called for plans to address the ‘intense workload and workforce pressures facing general practice’, so it can continue delivering the care patients ‘need and deserve’.

Drop in number of GP diagnoses

Further analysis from the ONS also showed that the number of GP diagnoses of depression fell by almost a quarter (23.7%) to 863,578 between March and August 2020.

It found that the largest fall in diagnoses was among patients aged 40 to 54 years (30.1%), with a greater decrease among men of all ages (27.4%) than for women (21.4%).

However, it added that depression diagnoses as percentage of all diagnoses had increased compared to the corresponding period in 2019.

Theodore Joloza, principal research officer at ONS, said that 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’.

She added: ‘The picture is one of a rising toll on mental health, with many people not necessarily accessing medical help.’

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.’

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