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Disclosures: Racine reports receiving fellowship support from Alberta Innovates. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
August 19, 2021
2 min read

Prevalence of depression, anxiety doubles among kids during pandemic

Disclosures: Racine reports receiving fellowship support from Alberta Innovates. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
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The global prevalence of symptoms of clinically elevated depression and anxiety has likely doubled among children during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers reported in JAMA Pediatrics.

A meta-analysis conducted by Nicole Racine, PhD, a postdoctoral associate in psychology at the University of Calgary, and colleagues, found that the pooled prevalence estimates of clinically elevated child and adolescent depression and anxiety were 25.2% and 20.5%, respectively, during the first year of the pandemic, compared with an estimated prevalence of 12.9% and 11.6%, respectively, before the pandemic.

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The meta-analysis included 29 studies on pediatric depression and anxiety symptoms published from Jan. 1, 2020, through Feb. 16, 2021, as well as unpublished studies from the preprint server PsycArXiv.

The studies included 80,879 participants — 52.7% were female and the mean age was 13 years. They included data from East Asia, Europe, North America, Central America, South America, and the Middle East.

The pooled prevalence of clinically elevated depression symptoms from 26 studies showed a rate of 0.25 (95% CI, 0.21-0.3), Racine and colleagues reported. Moreover, the researchers found that as the number of months in the year increased, depression symptoms did as well.

The pooled prevalence of clinically elevated anxiety symptoms from 25 studies showed a rate of 0.21 (95% CI, 0.17-0.24). As seen with depression, anxiety symptoms also increased as the year went on.

“The COVID-19 pandemic, and its associated restrictions and consequences, appear to have taken a considerable toll on youth and their psychological well-being,” the authors wrote. “Loss of peer interactions, social isolation, and reduced contact with buffering supports may have precipitated these increases.”

In a related editorial, Tami D. Benton, MD, psychiatrist-in-chief and executive director and chair of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry and behavioral sciences at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and colleagues said the pandemic is a “global call to action,” and that the crisis of youth depression and anxiety began long before the pandemic.

“We must advocate for implementation of evidence-supported practices that are scalable, expand access to care, and eliminate disparities worldwide. We must lead the charge for equitable mental health care for all children across the world,” Benton and colleagues wrote.


Benton TD, et al. JAMA Pediatr. 2021;doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.2479.

Racine N, et al. JAMA Pediatr. 2021;doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.2482.