SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Researchers have found depression and anxiety have worsened during the pandemic, putting people at a higher risk of heart disease. 

A new study by Intermountain Healthcare finds depression not only remained common during the pandemic, but led to increased emergency room visits for anxiety and chest pain.

Researchers gathered data from 4,633 patients who completed a depression screening as a standard procedure for Intermountain Healthcare. The dates capture mental health from both and during the pandemic.

The data found nearly 40% of patients reported new or continuing depression symptoms during the first year of the pandemic. 

“These findings are significant. In looking at the first year of the pandemic, we are already seeing the mental health effects on our patients,” said Heidi T. May, PhD, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute and principal investigator of the study. “We already know that depression raises a person’s risk for developing cardiovascular disease and other chronic health problems, so this is very concerning and highlights the importance of screening patients and providing mental health resources that they need.”

The patients were put into two groups — one without or no longer suffering from depression and one group that identified with depressive symptoms. The research shows those with existing symptoms were 2.8 times more likely to visit the emergency room and 1.8 times more likely to experience chest pains.

“If people are becoming more depressed because of the pandemic, in a few years, we could see a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease,” says May. “Clinicians should be acutely aware of their patients’ mental health so that it can be addressed and treated immediately to improve the overall quality of their lives, and hopefully avoid the development of subsequent health problems in the future. This is vital because the pandemic is still not over.”

In a recent study, researchers at Brigham Young University have shed greater light on how impactful the pandemic’s most pervasive effects have been on the world, namely loneliness and mental health decline.