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MDD Often Persists for Months After COVID-19 Illness

March 19, 2021

More than half of 3904 US adults with previous COVID-19 illness met criteria for moderate or greater symptoms of major depressive disorder months later, according to a study published online in a research letter in JAMA Network Open. 

“[O]ur results add to a growing body of evidence suggesting the importance of considering potential neuropsychiatric sequelae of COVID-19 infection,” wrote researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, and Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey; and Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. 

The web-based survey study, which included Patient Health Questionnaire-9 responses, found that 2046 participants, or 52.4% of those surveyed, met criteria for symptoms of major depressive disorder an average of 4.2 months after they experienced acute symptoms of COVID-19. 

Half of COVID-19 Survivors Report Moderate to Severe Depression

Moderate or greater symptoms of major depression were more likely among younger respondents, men, and those who reported greater COVID-19 symptom severity, regression models found. Additionally, headache during acute COVID-19 infection was associated with a greater likelihood of depressive symptoms at the time of the survey.

“[W]e cannot attribute these symptoms to new onset of depression; individuals with acute infection could be less likely to recover from prior depressive episodes or those with preexisting depressive symptoms could have greater risk of contracting COVID-19,” researchers clarified, referencing a study published earlier this year that suggested the association between COVID-19 and psychiatric illness was bidirectional.

Nevertheless, the authors continued, the findings point to the need for strategies to mitigate elevated depressive symptoms experienced by many so patients after COVID-19 illness.

—Jolynn Tumolo


Perlis RH, Ognyanova K, Santillana M, et al. Association of acute symptoms of COVID-19 and symptoms of depression in adults. JAMA Network Open. 2021;4(3):e213223.

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