The crisis has also thrown millions out of work, crippled the economy and forced shutdowns of bars, restaurants, theaters and gyms.
Calls from March through July to the US government-funded Disaster Distress Helpline, which offers counseling and emotional support, surged 335 percent from the same period last year.
“Helpline counselors have reported callers expressing feelings of isolation and interpersonal concerns related to physical distancing such as being cut off from social supports,” said Hannah Collins, a spokeswoman for Vibrant Emotional Health, a group that runs the helpline.
While not all calls are Covid-19-related, many people have sought help for anxiety and fear about getting the virus, distress over being diagnosed, or anguish over the illness or death of a loved one, she said.
The BU study involved a survey of 1,440 US adults questioned about depression symptoms in early April.
Symptoms were most common in young adults, low-income participants and in those who reported several outbreak-related troubles, including financial problems, lost jobs or Covid-19 deaths of relatives.
Almost 1,000 participants had experienced at least three such struggles.
The study results echo research from China early in the outbreak, and studies done during the Ebola and SARS crises and after major hurricanes and 9/11, said lead author Dr. Sandro Galea, a BU public health expert.
The survey was done before the US spike in civil unrest, including the May 24 death of George Floyd, who authorities say was killed when a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck for several minutes.