The level of mood disorders like depression and anxiety is projected to rise across the globe.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed a 13% rise in mental health and substance abuse disorders in the past decade.1

The onset of the pandemic has impacted the mental health of millions of people around the world. Everyone has been affected to at least some degree by factors like ongoing stress, financial instability, fear, loss, social isolation, and disruption in usual healthcare. While vaccinations have helped people feel more hopeful about a gradual return to normalcy, global mental health issues continue to be a significant concern for the entire population.

Rising rates of mental health disorders

The global rate of mental health conditions has risen since the pandemic began, with reports from 32 different countries pointing to an overall incidence of 28% for depression, 26.9% for anxiety, 24.1% for post-traumatic stress symptoms, 36.5% for stress, 50% for psychological distress, and 27.6% for sleep problems, according to a 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis.2

For many people, the pandemic has affected areas of daily life, including finances, employment concerns or job loss, general health issues, and family and other significant relationships. Others have struggled with challenges such as lack of control, disrupted routines, social distancing, isolation from friends and family, working from home, dealing with the subsequent impact on relationships, and an overall decreased ability to cope.

A cross-sectional online survey in a UK cohort examined potential risk factors for depression, anxiety, and stress among 3,097 study participants. The results identified factors such as being younger, female, and a member of a COVID-19 risk group as key influences for increased stress, anxiety, and depression.3 Results of a systematic review and meta-analyses published also confirmed these factors, finding that having a pre-existing mental health condition and experiencing concerns about getting infected with the COVID-19 virus were potential additional risk factors.4

The response to the pandemic in terms of lockdowns and other measures has also impacted people’s mental health and wellbeing. One survey compared the impact of the pandemic response on the mental health of participants, including factors such as differences in the management of lockdowns, border closures, and travel restrictions. The results of the survey showed that 25% of responders reported a “subjective worsening of the general psychological symptoms” like anxiety, stress, and depression.5

Prioritising mental health for clinical trial participants

Reducing the patient burden is especially important in psychiatric studies. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated and increased adoption of decentralised and hybrid trials, which reduce the need for site and patient interactions, allowing for greater cost efficiency and increased patient centricity. These trials also minimise the risk of clinical trial disruption and patients’ heightened anxiety and sleep disturbances, which can add variability in critical situations such as the ongoing pandemic.

Additionally, the use of digital health technologies, along with home healthcare visits and telehealth, may improve monitoring of clinical trial participation. Accellacare In-Home Services, plus the use of telemedicine, a fully-compliant remote Source Data Verification process, and FIRECREST eViewer and eConsent, make it convenient for the patient to complete the protocol assessments and stay engaged throughout the clinical study.

Looking to the future

Due to the ongoing and evolving nature of the pandemic, it’s hard to predict the exact long-term impact that it will have on mental health symptoms and disorders.6 While public and mental health interventions remain one way to promote mental health and wellness in the general public, the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate adoption of decentralised and hybrid trials, the use of digital health technologies, and home healthcare visits and telehealth. All these together may improve the monitoring of clinical trial participation, easing site and patient burdens.

Learn more about our experience in psychiatric clinical trials.

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