Sex and age differences in clinically significant symptoms of depression and anxiety among people in Australia in the first month of COVID-19 restrictions: A national survey

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Objectives To identify sex and age differences in clinically significant symptoms of depression and anxiety and the factors associated with these differences among adults in Australia during COVID-19-related restrictions. Design Anonymous online survey. Setting Australia. Participants Adults aged over 18 years living in Australia were eligible and 13 829 contributed complete data. Of these, 13 762 identified as female (10 434) or male (3328) and were included in analyses. Interventions None. Outcome measures Clinically significant symptoms of depression (≥10 on Patient Health Questionnaire 9) or anxiety (≥10 on Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale 7 (GAD-7)), and experiences of irritability (GAD-7 item 6). Results Women were more likely than men to have clinically significant symptoms of depression (26.3% (95% CI 25.4 to 27.1) vs 20.1% (95% CI 18.7 to 21.5), p<0.001) and anxiety (21.8% (95% CI 21.0 to 22.6) vs 14.2% (95% CI 13.0 to 15.4), p<0.001) and to have experienced irritability in the previous fortnight (63.1% (95% CI 62.1 to 64.0) vs 51.4% (95% CI 49.7 to 53.2), p<0.001). They were also more likely than men to be doing unpaid work caring for children (22.8% (95% CI 22.0 to 23.6) vs 8.6% (95% CI 7.7 to 9.6), p<0.001) and dependent relatives (9.8% (95% CI 9.2 to 10.3) vs 5.7% (95% CI 4.9 to 6.5), p<0.001) which made significant contributions to the mental health outcomes of interest. Loss of employment, fear of contracting COVID-19 and feeling a severe impact of the restrictions were associated with poorer mental health in women and men of all ages. Conclusions Rates of clinically significant symptoms of depression and anxiety were higher among women than men. Rather than being intrinsically more vulnerable to mental health problems during the COVID-19 pandemic, the higher risk of symptoms of anxiety and depression among women may in part be explained by their disproportionate burden of unpaid caregiving.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere042696
Number of pages7
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2020


  • mental health
  • public health
  • social medicine

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