Background A growing number of studies indicate the considerable mental health impacts of the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic in the general population as chronic stress is a risk factor for the development of depression and anxiety. Mood disorders are more prevalent in RA and a history of anxiety or depressive disorders increases the risk of recurrence in the future.
Objectives To compare trends in prevalence of anxiety and depressive symptoms, prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic in RA patients with and without a lifetime history of mood disorders.
Methods Data were from RA patients diagnosed and treated for RA in rheumatology clinics across Canada enrolled in the Canadian Early Arthritis Cohort (CATCH) Study. We estimated monthly trends in prevalence of clinically significant levels of anxiety and depression (PROMIS Depression and Anxiety 4a score 55+) from all visits between Mar 2019 and Jan 2022 and compared monthly trends in anxiety and depression in the year prior to (Mar 2019- Feb 2020) and during the pandemic (Mar 2020 to Jan 2022) stratified by lifetime history of mood disorders.
Results 4,148 visits were completed from Mar 2019 to Jan 2022 in 1,644 RA patients with a mean (SD) age of 60 (14) and disease duration of 6 (4) years. 73% were women, 84% white, 60% had completed some post-secondary education, and 77% were in CDAI REM/LDA at the visit closest to the start of pandemic. 253 (15%) reported a lifetime history of depression and 217 (13%) a lifetime history of anxiety; 8% reported prior treatment for either.
Patients with a history of mood disorders had higher levels of depression and anxiety prior-to and during the pandemic compared with patients without a history of mood disorders (Table 1). Proportions were highest during COVID waves in all and were substantially higher and more variable in people with a previous history of mood disorders as compared to those without a history (Figure 1). While depressive symptoms peaked early in the pandemic, anxiety increased with each wave, peaking in Wave 3 (May-Jun 2021).
During the first 22 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the proportion of patients with depression and anxiety increased in all groups. More than half of those with a history of emotional distress had clinically significant levels of depression and anxiety; proportions were highest during COVID waves in all and were substantially higher in people with previous history as compared to those without a history (see Figure 1). Whereas depressive symptoms peaked early in the pandemic, anxiety increased with each wave, peaking in Wave 3 (May-Jun 2021).
Conclusion Symptoms of anxiety and depression were common in Canadian adults with RA prior to and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whereas others have found that high levels of depression and anxiety occurred early in the pandemic but declined fairly rapidly in the general population1, emotional distress was not attenuated over time in this large cohort of RA patients. Individuals reporting lifetime history of mood disorders were more than twice as likely to report anxiety and depression, with depression peaking early in the pandemic and anxiety growing with each successive wave in the first year. The results demonstrate the importance of applying a lifetime perspective as previous episodes of anxiety and depression may be an important marker of increased vulnerability and recurrence in RA patients, particularly during the pandemic.
References Fancourt D et al. Trajectories of anxiety and depressive symptoms during enforced isolation due to COVID-19 in England. Lancet Psychiatry. 2021;8:141-9.
Acknowledgements CATCH is supported through unrestricted research grants from: Amgen and Pfizer Canada since 2007; AbbVie Corporation since 2011; Medexus since 2013; Sandoz Canada since 2019; Fresenius Kabi Canada since 2021 and; Organon Canada since 2021. Previous funding from Janssen Canada (2011-16); UCB Canada and Bristol-Myers Squibb Canada (2011-18); Hoffman La Roche Limited (2011-21); Sanofi Genzyme (2016-17); Eli Lilly Canada (2016-20); Merck Canada (2017-21) and; Gilead Sciences Canada (2020-21)
Disclosure of Interests None declared
Statistics from Altmetric.com
If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.