SALT LAKE CITY — A new study released by Intermountain Healthcare Sunday morning found that nearly 40% of patients reported new or continuing symptoms of depression during the first year of the pandemic, which led to an increase in emergency room visits for chest pain and anxiety treatment.
The study, which was first presented at the American Heart Association's virtual 2021 Scientific Session, examined 4,633 Intermountain Healthcare patients who completed a depression screening before and during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The screening is a standard primary care procedure for Intermountain Healthcare facilities.
For the study, researchers looked at screening data from March 1, 2019 all the way through April 20, 2021, with March 1, 2020, being designated as the start of the pandemic. Patients were divided into two categories, those with no depression/no longer depressed, and those who became/remained depressed. Patients were then assessed for follow-up emergency visits for anxiety and chest pain.
The study found that among patients with depression, depression scores were higher during the first year of the pandemic that before. Patients with depression were also found to be 2.8 times more likely to visit the emergency room for chest pain and 1.8 times more likely to have anxiety with chest pain compared to non-depressed patients.
"If people are becoming more depressed because of the pandemic, in a few years, we could see a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Heidi T. May, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute who was the principal investigator for the study, in a statement released by Intermountain.
In the same statement, Dr. May noted that a longer period of follow up is needed to determine the potential long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on patients' mental health.
“Clinicians should be acutely aware of their patients’ mental health so that it can be addressed and treated immediately to improve the overall quality of their lives, and hopefully avoid the development of subsequent health problems in the future," said Dr. May. "This is vital because the pandemic is still not over."