The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown are taking a toll on almost every aspect of contemporary life, including mental health and well-being. This public health crisis may have a particularly significant effect on people living with depression.
The stresses of the health risk that the pandemic presents and the tragic loss of life it has caused, combined with social isolation, a lack of access to favorite activities, and an uncertain future, are taxing for everyone. These issues may be especially challenging for those experiencing mental health conditions.
In a Chinese study exploring the psychological impact of the disease, almost 35% of respondents reported psychological issues due to the pandemic. For those already living with depression, COVID-19 is an additional complication. Vulnerable people who did not have clinical depression before the pandemic may also be experiencing symptoms of the condition.
People working in healthcare, grocery stores, and elsewhere on the “frontline” of this pandemic face additional burdens of high pressure work environments and a higher likelihood of exposure to COVID-19 for themselves and their families.
Keep reading to learn more about how the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown can affect depression, including some coping tips and treatment advice.
Depression is much more profound, all-encompassing, and devastating than simply feeling sad. It is a very real mental health condition with effects on both the mind and body.
Depression affects how people sleep, eat, and see the world. Setbacks that look small to others may seem insurmountable. People may not be able to concentrate or even face simple prospects of daily life, such as getting up in the morning and dressing themselves.
Experts say that people dealing with mental health challenges may be more vulnerable than others during a public health crisis because:
- they are more likely to pick up infections
- accessing treatment can be more difficult for them
- the emotional stress of COVID-19 and social isolation makes their preexisting condition worse
- quarantine may prevent them from accessing their usual treatments, such as going to therapy sessions or practicing certain lifestyle choices
People living with depression during this pandemic may now find themselves:
- having difficulty accessing their medications
- facing unusually intense fear about the spread of COVID-19 and how it may affect their loved ones
- feeling extremely anxious about their finances
- feeling uncertain and confused about how to shop for necessities
- withdrawing more due to social isolation
- experiencing an increased sense of helplessness and hopelessness about the future
One guideline for living through a global emergency is to avoid spending every moment in “crisis mode.” A range of different activities can help people stay grounded in difficult times. Make a point of:
- following a normal routine as much as possible
- limiting time spent engaging with the news and social media
- finding ways to be physically active
- eating a healthful diet
- trying to get enough sleep
- avoiding alcohol and drugs
- focusing on what you can control
- maintaining social relationships
These practices will not change anyone’s circumstances, but they can help people realize that they still have a connection to their prior way of life. Focusing on this can help people take steps toward making themselves feel better.
Depression is a serious mental health condition, but it is treatable. The two key components of treatment for depression are medication and psychotherapy. Although people can opt for one without the other, many experts say that combining the two provides the best results.
Medications called antidepressants can bring people relief from their symptoms of depression. Many different kinds of antidepressants are available, some of which are suitable for use in combination. The extensive number of options means that it could take time for people to find — with a doctor’s help — what works for them.
Talk therapy options include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This therapy aims to help people change problematic ways of thinking and behaving.
- Family therapy: This type of therapy addresses how individuals and their issues fit within a family system.
- Interpersonal therapy: This treatment emphasizes finding effective ways to communicate.
Peer support can be helpful, particularly after disasters. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offer peer-led support groups for people with depression and their friends and family all over the country.
In an encouraging sign, researchers studying the link between serious mental illness and disasters found that depression was the second most common mental health condition among disaster survivors, after post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, they noted that people who developed depression after such events had a high rate of recovery.
With lockdown, it is likely impossible for people to see a psychotherapist in person unless it is an emergency. However, virtual therapy is an option. Read about it here.
Lifestyle choices, such as diet and exercise, and other home remedies may also help with symptoms of depression. Read about foods that may help with depression here.
Depression is an extremely serious mental health condition that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate. A person should seek professional help if they notice any of the following over a prolonged period:
- constant feelings of sadness or emptiness
- sleeping significantly more or less than usual
- eating significantly more or less than usual
- a deep lack of energy
- irritability and pessimism
- loss of interest in things that formerly brought pleasure
- inability to concentrate
- suicidal thoughts
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 800-799-4889.
Depression is a serious mental health condition that can have a significant effect on people’s lives.
Public health disasters, such as the outbreak of COVID-19, make life very difficult for everyone, but they may pose an even bigger challenge for people with depression.
However, depression is treatable, even in a pandemic, and it is important to continue to seek treatment and stick with it, even in unprecedented times.