Lead researcher, Dr Mareike Aichholzer
said “We also saw a
decrease in inpatient treatment of recurrent depression in our own
hospital in Frankfurt. In addition to the stricter admission rules,
this rather seemed to be due to a drop in demand from the patients
In contrast, the number of new outpatients being treated for clinical
depression at the University Hospital in Frankfurt remained stable and
the number of patients with recurrent depression showed a significant
increase between 2019 and 2021. However, Dr Aichholzer notes “This is data from a single centre, so
we need to wait to see what other centres say”.
She continued, “The
results indicate that patients who have repeatedly suffered from
depression during their lives were less likely to be admitted to
hospital during the pandemic. However, these patients are often so
severely affected by depression that outpatient treatment alone is not
sufficient to bring about a satisfactory improvement in symptoms. The
result is that patients lose their quality of life in the long term.
The actual reason for this observation is unclear. Although our study
was not designed to identify the reasons for those changes, we however
suspect that clinically depressed patients in particular withdraw more
often from society/their friends/their family and that this behaviour
was more common during the times of the lock-down and the strict
hygiene guidelines. Moreover, we suspect, that clinically depressed
patients avoided the hospital, because they were afraid of being
infected with COVID-19 on the ward.
The data from our
hospital in Frankfurt indicates that patients with clinical depression
seem to have withdrawn themselves, rather than seeking adequate mental
health help. To be prepared for the winter with potentially increasing
COVID numbers, we have to provide easily accessible help and raise
awareness for this topic”.
Clinical depression, also known as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a
serious mental illness, affecting more than 6% of Europeans at any one
time. The majority of sufferers can be treated with pharmaceuticals
and/or counselling, although a minority of patients don’t respond to
Commenting, Professor Brenda Penninx, Professor of psychiatric
epidemiology at the Department of Psychiatry, University Medical
Centre, Amsterdam, said:
“The figures found by
the Frankfurt team confirm a familiar pattern. We have recently found
that quite a few countries are beginning to report a decreased pattern
of mental health care use during the first pandemic years. It is
extremely important that in the next few years we follow whether
postponed treatments may result in increased mental health problems.
This also illustrates that mental health care deserves adequate
clinical attention during future pandemics”.
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