Even in normal times, some people who live in Seattle start to feel down around this time of the year. The gray and drizzle has set in, and we can look forward to six more months of it.
But 2020 is anything but normal. On top of the lack of sunlight, cases of the novel coronavirus are surging here, and we’re locked down again. It’s particularly painful, given how well we were doing containing the spread of the virus over the summer.
In the warmer months, we could easily socialize and exercise outdoors, where the risk of virus transmission is much lower. Those things aren’t nearly so pleasant in the cold and damp. We’re spending more time inside now, and more time alone.
A new survey from the U.S. Census Bureau found that in mid-November, just about half of Seattle-area adults said they were dealing with feelings of depression. Of the slightly more than 3 million people age 18 and older in our metro area, an estimated 1.5 million were feeling “down, depressed, or hopeless” at least a few days over the previous week.
The question about mental health is included in the Household Pulse Survey, a new endeavor by the U.S. Census Bureau, working in conjunction with five other federal agencies. Unlike other census products, which have a long lag time, the Household Pulse Survey provides near real-time data.
These statistics are intended to help inform officials and policymakers about the impacts of the pandemic on communities across the country, and to provide data to aid in the post-pandemic recovery.
For this column, I used the most recent survey, which was conducted from Nov. 11 to 23. And for that week, Seattle was the saddest major metro in the country.
The Household Pulse Survey includes data for the 15 largest metro areas (and we just make the cut at No. 15). And of those 15, Seattle had the highest percentage of respondents who answered that they had feeling of depression or hopelessness in the past week.
Perhaps the lack of sunlight isn’t much of a factor, because we effectively tied with one of the sunniest places in the country: Phoenix (49.1%). Then again, as I wrote about in a recent column, tons of folks from the Seattle area have been moving to Arizona in recent years, so maybe that’s our effect?
The metro area with lowest reports of feelings of depression in mid-November was New York, at 37%, which still seems like a high number.
It would be helpful if this survey had existed prepandemic, so we had a baseline with which to compare the current numbers. Unfortunately, it didn’t. So it’s impossible to say how much worse Seattleites are feeling now than they normally might.
Perhaps it’s not unusual for half the adults in the Seattle area to have feelings of depression in any given week. But that seems unlikely. And in fact, there is evidence that the pandemic has had a profound negative effect on American’s mental health. A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that depression had quadrupled among adults during the pandemic, when compared with data from 2019.
One finding of that CDC report was that depression related to the pandemic was significantly worse among young adults. That could be because the pandemic may cause more disruption in a young person’s life, affecting things like graduation, weddings and job hunting. And, of course, the pandemic has severely limited social activity, which is typically a very big part of young people’s lives.
The CDC report is consistent with what the cross tabs show for the Seattle survey. Among adults 18 to 39, 57% experienced depression in mid-November, the highest of any age group. For people age 60 and older, about 38% reported feeling depressed for several days or more during the week.
While money can’t buy happiness, of course, the Seattle survey does show that those with lower household income were more likely to feel depression — 65% among those with income below $50,000, compared with 46% among those making $150,000 or higher. The data also shows higher levels of depression among folks who are collecting unemployment or government subsidies, or who had to dip into savings or borrow money to stay afloat in November.
There does not appear to be any correlation between level of education and feelings of depression.
In the Seattle area, multiracial and white people were more likely to report feelings of depression in mid-November than Asian, Black or Hispanic people. And women were slightly more likely to feel depressed than men.
Nationally, 71,939 people responded to this survey, including 1,754 people in the Seattle area.