Epidemiol Health.  2022;44(1):e2022042. 10.4178/epih.e2022042.

Mental health of Korean adults before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: a special report of the 2020 Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

  • 1Department of Preventive Medicine, College of Medicine, Catholic University of Korea, Seoul, Korea
  • 2Division of Health and Nutrition Survey and Analysis, Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, Cheongju, Korea


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the associated social distancing, limited freedom, and fear of an uncertain future are expected to have substantial mental health effects. We investigated mental health responses in the community during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in Korea.
We used 2016-2019 and 2020 data from the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES) to assess pre-pandemic and pandemic mental health status, respectively, in terms of perceived severe stress, depression, and suicidal plans. All analyses were gender-stratified. Pre-specified subgroup analyses were performed according to age, employment status, and household income.
The percentage of Korean adults with suicidal plans increased significantly from 1.3%p (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.1 to 1.5) in 2016-2019 to 1.8%p (95% CI, 1.4 to 2.1) in 2020. Individuals in their 20s and 40s showed a marked increase in suicidal plans (1.2%p; 95% CI, 0.0 to 2.3 and 0.9%p; 95% CI, 0.0 to 1.8, respectively). In men, depression and perceived severe stress increased significantly from pre-COVID-19 to 2020. There was a 2.4%p (95% CI, 0.8 to 4.0) increase in depression among standard workers and a 2.9%p increase in depression in individuals in the second-highest quintile of household income from 2016 and 2018 to 2020.
As COVID-19 continued, mental health issues such as suicidal plans, depression, and severe stress increased significantly in young men and people in the second-highest quintile of household income. Proactive community mental health efforts are needed to prevent increases in the suicide rate resulting from prolonged exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic.


COVID-19; Stress; Depression; Suicide; Mental health; Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
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