The COVID-19 pandemic and mental health among those with pre-existing depression – UROP Spring Symposium 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic and mental health among those with pre-existing depression

Grace Schaefer

Grace Schaefer

Pronouns: she/her

Research Mentor(s): Rachel Bergmans, Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Research Mentor School/College/Department: Institute for Social Research,
Presentation Date: Thursday, April 22, 2021
Session: Session 1 (10am-10:50am)
Breakout Room: Room 13
Presenter: 1

Event Link


Background. It has been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began influencing broad social and economic factors, likely taking a toll on the mental health of many individuals. Those with pre-existing symptoms of hopelessness, anhedonia, and suicidal ideation that are characteristic of depression may be especially vulnerable to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health. Previous research has shown that pre-existing psychopathology is a predictor of negative mental health consequences following traumatic events. However, other work indicates that those with depression can be resilient to stressful life events. Objective. The goal of this project was to review existing literature to determine the potential for the COVID-19 pandemic to influence mental health among those with pre-existing depression. Population of interest. Those with depressive symptoms or a depressive disorder prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Outcome of interest. Depressive symptoms and psychological distress. Exposure of interest. The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on social and economic factors. Methods. Three databases were searched using similar search terms related to depression, coping, COVID-19 and stressful life events. A wide range of studies were considered, including literature reviews, qualitative studies, animal models, and human studies. Studies examining the effect of other community-wide disasters were also considered since COVID-19 is a recent event that lacks extensive research on this topic. Results. Existing research indicates that those with pre-existing depression experienced declines in mental health in response to the pandemic. As an example of this, Zimmermann and colleagues (2020) assessed changes in mental health among college students and observed that depression severity in February 2020 predicted levels of depression symptoms in April 2020 (ß = 0.54, p < 0.001). Factors such as virtual social interaction, problematic online experiences, magnitude of media exposure surrounding COVID-19, and avoidance behaviors likely played a role in this relationship. This aligns with prior research by Thompson and colleagues (2017) where they assessed changes in psychological distress and found that prior mental health conditions were a predictor of psychological distress (ß = 0.29, p < 0.001) after the Ebola epidemic in Western Africa. Conclusion. After reviewing research thus far on the COVID pandemic, it is likely that those with pre-existing depression experienced negative consequences of COVID-19 on mental health. Findings may inform targeted interventions among those vulnerable to the mental health effects of community-wide disasters like the pandemic. Authors: Grace Schaefer, Rachel Bergmans
Research Method: Library/Archival/Internet Research

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