Study reveals pandemic-specific depression, anxiety among individuals with MS

April 04, 2022
A new study compared prepandemic and pandemic data on emotional distress in people with MS. Comparison of pandemic with prepandemic data for the study sample suggests the occurrence of pandemic-specific depression and anxiety. The findings raise awareness of COVD-19-related stress and have implications for treating mental health issues in MS.

The social restrictions mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic have heightened concerns about exacerbations of pre-existing mental health issues and loneliness among vulnerable populations, such as people with MS. To assess the effect of the pandemic on the MS population, Kessler Foundation researchers surveyed 142 individuals who had previously reported their emotional experiences in a national online survey. Comparisons showed increases in depression, anxiety, and loneliness during the pandemic, with 54 percent reporting ‘new’ depression, and 33 percent, ‘new’ anxiety. Increases in loneliness affected all people with depression and anxiety, whether symptoms were new or pre-existing.

The research team sought to differentiate individuals with new symptoms from those with prepandemic symptoms and no prior reported symptoms. Researchers found that ‘new’ depression and anxiety appeared to be related specifically to the pandemic. They also saw no link to the person-specific factors commonly associated with depression and anxiety in individuals with MS, namely, personality and self-efficacy.

The findings have important implications for the treatment of mental health issues in MS. Researchers noted that clinicians need to be aware of the heterogenous nature of depression and anxiety in their patients with MS, and approach treatment accordingly. Individuals with new symptomatology will benefit from cognitive behavioral interventions that stress coping, positive mental health habits, and encouragement to connect with others despite the pandemic. Meanwhile individuals with pre-existing symptoms may respond to those aimed at improving self-efficacy and other more fundamental factors of emotional distress.

The article was published in Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.

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