Comparison of post-COVID depression and major depressive disorder

medRxiv. 2021 Apr 4;2021.03.26.21254425. doi: 10.1101/2021.03.26.21254425. Preprint


Background: During the COVID-19 pandemic rates of depressive symptoms are markedly elevated, particularly among survivors of infection. Understanding whether such symptoms are distinct among those with prior SARS-CoV-2 infection, or simply a nonspecific reflection of elevated stress, could help target interventions.

Method: We analyzed data from multiple waves of a 50-state survey that included questions about COVID-19 infection as well as the Patient Health Questionnaire examining depressive and anxious symptoms. We utilized multiple logistic regression to examine whether sociodemographic features associated with depression liability differed for those with or without prior COVID-19, and then whether depressive symptoms differed among those with or without prior COVID-19.

Results: Among 91,791 respondents, in regression models, age, gender, race, education, and income all exhibited an interaction with prior COVID-19 in risk for moderate or greater depressive symptoms (p<0.0001 in all cases), indicating differential risk in the two subgroups. Among those with such symptoms, levels of motoric symptoms and suicidality were significantly greater among those with prior COVID-19 illness. Depression risk increased with greater interval following acute infection.

Discussion: Our results suggest that major depressive symptoms observed among individuals with prior COVID-19 illness may not reflect typical depressive episodes, and merit more focused neurobiological investigation.

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