Depression is a mental health condition that is life-altering for the people experiencing it and those who care for them. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown may be putting increased strain on people with depression, and maintaining proper care for them is essential.
It can always be difficult for the friends and family of people with depression to know what to do for their loved ones. However, it is even more challenging, as well as both more necessary and more complicated, to offer such assistance during a pandemic.
Keep reading to learn more about how to help those who may be experiencing the symptoms of depression during this trying time.
There is ample evidence that infectious disease outbreaks have a significant effect on mental health:
- Scientific studies that researchers conducted during the Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in Korea show that medical isolation can cause measurable increases in stress.
- 27% of healthcare workers involved in the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in Singapore developed psychiatric symptoms.
- Reports from Wuhan, China, indicate a 7% rise in cases of depression since the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Another study in Wuhan found that 17% of respondents had moderate-to-severe symptoms of depression.
Just as the coronavirus can be much more dangerous for people with preexisting medical conditions, the psychological effects of the pandemic can be much worse for people already living with depression.
People can help those with depression during this challenging time by:
- encouraging them to follow recommended safeguards, including regular hand washing and physical distancing, because mental health problems can lead to deliberately poor health choices
- offering assistance with receiving tests and treatment as necessary
- contacting them frequently to help them handle social isolation
- ensuring that they get news and vital information from reliable sources, rather than just from social media, which can increase anxiety
The stigma of mental illness can make it hard for some people with depression to admit that they are experiencing the condition, let alone to speak about it.
Talk and be open
Friends and family of people with depression need to be ready to discuss difficult and painful subjects. They should make it clear that an individual’s mental health challenges do not in any way diminish their love, caring, and respect.
Broaching the issue
of mental health problems and the need for support can be difficult for
everyone. The following steps can be helpful:
- noting that depression can creep up on people and that some people with depression might not realize how profoundly it has affected them
- choosing a time and place to talk that allows everyone to feel comfortable, calm, and unrushed
- explaining the different circumstances that are causing concern
- keeping in mind that people with depression cannot “snap out of it” and being patient
Learn more about how to recognize the hidden signs of depression here.
Be ready to take action
Be ready to help the person take action. The following steps can help, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Remind people that it is always all right to ask for help from friends, family, and professionals.
- Offer to help people get the nutritional food that they need. Following a healthful diet can be beneficial, but it may be difficult during a pandemic.
- Physical activity is helpful for people with depression, but opportunities may be limited in places with stay-at-home policies. Suggest doing online workouts together, taking virtual or socially distant walks, or doing other activities that may appeal, at least a bit.
- Prepare a list of sources for professional help, including how to reach them, even during lockdown. Many health organizations and independent practitioners are offering online sessions and telehealth options during the pandemic. However, it is sometimes easier for people to speak to their doctor before meeting with a specialist, so that may be a good way to begin.
- Online support groups can also be helpful. Find out which ones are accepting new patients.
- Help people with depression get the medication that they need. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this may mean arranging for delivery.
Listen and advise
People with depression are often not thinking clearly, by definition, and they may also feel defensive. When trying to care for someone with depression, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, a person should prepare to face a lot of objections. If they say:
- They are just upset about the pandemic: Note that everyone is upset about the pandemic, but explain that you are worried about them and the changes that you have noticed.
- People who are more unwell need help: Anybody who is experiencing mental or physical challenges deserves help, and by getting treatment now, they will limit their impact on the system later.
- Nothing will make a difference: Let them know that depression is treatable. Many different medications and forms of therapy are available, and it is possible for them to find relief.
While it may be difficult to have regular therapy sessions due to the lockdown, a lot of practices are offering virtual therapy — for example, via internet video chat. Learn more about video therapy here.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is possible to find help for someone with depression. Certain signs indicate the need for treatment, particularly if they last for more than a week or two. A person should seek help if they:
- express suicidal thoughts or plans or attempt suicide
- are no longer drawn to their preferred activities and people
- display an inability to concentrate or focus their thinking
- experience increasing agitation
- have an extreme lack of energy
- have new difficulty sleeping or an unusual desire to sleep more
- experience changes in appetite
- demonstrate a lack of interest in bathing or their appearance
The COVID-19 pandemic is having a huge impact on people in numerous different ways, and it can affect their mental health and well-being.
Evidence from similar outbreaks in the past suggests that the strain of such an event can lead to new cases of depression and other mental health challenges. It can also worsen symptoms in those already experiencing mental health conditions and make getting treatment more difficult.
Informal care providers, friends, and families can play an active role in maintaining their loved one’s health by being a regular presence in their life and watching out for their mental and physical condition.