Depression, anxiety: NJHA report says they’re hitting youngest hardest

Nearly three in five New Jerseyans (58%) between the ages of 18-29 have experienced an anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic, a new report by the New Jersey Hospital Association found.

The prevalence of anxiety, depression and drug and substance abuse has increased among all New Jersey residents amid the pandemic, survey responses and hospital claims data confirm, with 42% of all adults reported having anxiety or depression symptoms.

The report, The Other Epidemic: The Mental Health Toll of COVID-19, was taken from data compiled as part of the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. It shows that the mental health challenges have been brought on by COVID-19, particularly among young people, NJHA CEO Cathy Bennett said.

“The burden of COVID-19 in New Jersey cannot be measured solely by confirmed cases and lives lost,” she said. “It’s important that we also understand the invisible toll of COVID — the mental health impacts brought on by fear, loss, isolation and, for many families and frontliners, the emotional trauma of this pandemic year.

“We are only beginning to see the impact on the second victims of COVID-19, and New Jersey must be prepared to address these very real health needs evident across generations.”

NJHA’s Center for Health Analytics, Research and Transformation analyzed claims data from New Jersey hospital emergency departments along with survey responses from New Jersey residents who participated in the Household Pulse Survey. The two sources help quantify the impact of the mental strain of COVID-19 on the state’s residents.

The data came from a survey taken Jan. 20-Feb. 1. Key findings show:

  • Half of N.J. residents who reported losing their job in the pandemic said they experienced anxiety or depression symptoms, compared with 34.2% who did not experience job loss;
  • Claims data from emergency departments show a pronounced increase in drug and substance abuse diagnoses. For all age groups combined, the proportion of drug/substance use diagnoses increased approximately 29% from 2019 to 2020, from 5.2% to 6.8%.

The hospital data, gathered through emergency department claims, shows those under the age of 17 have suffered greatly:

  • Those under 18 presenting with a primary or secondary diagnosis for depressive disorders increased by approximately 84% compared to the same period in 2019 (1.37% to 2.53%);
  • Anxiety among those under 18 increased more than 74% (1.22% to 2.12%);
  • Drug/substance abuse diagnoses for children and adolescents, ages 17 years and under, jumped from 0.56% in 2019 to 1.07% in 2020 — a 91% increase.