Adolescent behavioral health was in crisis before COVID-19. The shutdown and reopening of in-person learning and extracurricular activities may have worsened this crisis. We examined high school athletes' depression before and during the pandemic. Data were collected as part of a pilot program incorporating Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) screenings during high school sports physicals before the COVID-19 lockdown and three timepoints after. Statistical comparisons were made using logistic regression. A total of 927 individual scores were analyzed: 385 from spring 2020; 145 from fall 2020; 163 from fall 2021; and 234 from spring 2022. Fall 2020 students were 3.7 times more likely to have elevated PHQ-2 scores than spring 2020 students (95% CI = 1.8, 7.6). Fall 2021 and spring 2022 scores did not differ significantly from pre-pandemic, although trends of elevated scores persisted (OR = 1.6; 95% CI = 0.7, 3.5, and OR = 1.2; 95% CI = 0.6, 2.4, respectively). A significant difference in PHQ-9 depression severity classification was detected over time (p < 0.01). Elevated PHQ scores were found after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. After the initial peak in fall 2020, scores decreased but did not reach pre-pandemic levels.
Keywords: COVID-19; PHQ; depression screening; high school athletes; lockdown; pandemic.