Whether a person had pre-existing levels of depression or the pandemic created new symptoms, COVID-19 depression is affecting many. People who acknowledge their symptoms early, use coping skills, and seek professional treatments can lower their risk of coronavirus depression.
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Understanding Your Depression
Depression is not just one condition, it is a group of mental health disorders that differ by onset, duration, intensity, and extent of symptoms. With major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder and depression connected to bipolar disorders, one person’s depression can look very different from another’s.
Although unique, depressive disorders share a common set of symptoms like:
- Low mood or irritability
- Low motivation
- Loss of pleasure in hobbies or interests
- Low energy and feeling fatigued
- Significant sleep changes
- Significant weight changes without trying
- Feeling very slowed down or sped up
- Feeling extreme guilt and worthlessness
- Frequent thoughts of death and suicide
These symptoms are not new, but they are increasing in many people due to coronavirus stress.
- 81% of mental health professionals say their clients are reporting increased mental health symptoms
- 32% of recent survey respondents cited mental health symptoms like anxiety and depression as the reason they’ve increased their alcohol or drug use
- About 20% of people with long-term unemployment have depression
Additionally, the coronavirus can directly and indirectly influence rates of depression by:
- Limiting contact with loved ones
- Increasing medical stress
- Disrupting normal routines at work, home, or school
- Reducing financial stability
Diagnosing Depression During Coronavirus
When a person notes changes in their mood, sleep, diet, energy or other symptoms linked to depression, they should take swift action to receive treatment. Conditions like depression do not magically get better over time. Instead, they tend to grow and/or become worse with delayed treatment.
In some locations and situations, the coronavirus has changed the way mental health professionals operate. Some clinicians or agencies may have shut down temporarily, but many others are expanding operations to provide greater outreach to those in need. With a move towards telehealth and teletherapy, providers across the country are innovating treatment by using telephone, text-based, and video conferencing tools to conduct evaluations and therapy sessions. Providers like The Recovery Village may offer app-based access to care for those in need.
This change means a person can still receive depression assessments and treatment, even during the pandemic. No one should have to wait for treatment.
Whether the appointment is face-to-face or virtually with telehealth, the process will be similar. The evaluator will ask a series of questions about the symptoms, their onset, and their intensity to make a proper diagnosis. Several depressive conditions only require symptoms to be present most of the time for a few weeks, so issues associated with COVID could cause depression.
Coping with Coronavirus Depression
With the effective use of healthy coping skills, it’s possible to help reduce symptoms of coronavirus depression. These simple measures may take some time to perfect, so be patient. You may also need to explore more than one to find the right coping strategy or strategies that work for you.
Check Your Symptoms and Triggers
Before you can cope with a problem like corona-related depression, you have to fully understand what you are facing. Is your depression:
- New since the beginning of the pandemic?
- Worse or changing with new stressors?
- Inconsistent or steady?
- Impacting other mental health disorders or symptoms you’re experiencing?
With this information established, you can start looking at the people, places, things and situations that seem to make symptoms better or worse. Avoiding some of the negative triggers could relieve symptoms, and changing your thinking about the others could lessen their effect.
Focus on the Physical
Even though it may seem counterintuitive, anytime your mental health is in jeopardy, you should devote more energy to your physical health. How you are eating, sleeping and exercising will have a direct effect on your mental state.
By eating healthy foods, avoiding excess caffeine and sugar, increasing your physical activity, and devoting enough time to restful sleep, you can put yourself in a better position to improve your moods. Making these changes will create real changes in your brain, which can facilitate real mental health improvements.
Surround Yourself with Supports
Depression has the power to isolate and cut people off from their supports, so maintaining or increasing socialization could be key for fighting back against the condition. Plan to spend time and do fulfilling activities with the people you love.
The “social distancing” recommendation that came out in the early days of the pandemic confused many people. While physical distancing is important to impede the spread of the virus, no one really needed to “socially” distance themselves. With the available technological options, people can easily text, speak on the phone or video chat to pursue ways to socialize safely. Many relationships can be maintained without the need for consistent physical contact.
Create New Routines
The world is different now and working to accept this change is valuable. Rather than waiting for life to return to the pre-coronavirus standard, focus on adapting and changing.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is by forming new routines for yourself and your loved ones. Just because you woke up, ate, exercised, and communicated with others in certain ways at certain times in 2019 does not mean you need to follow this same pattern in 2020.
Experiment with new processes to explore new avenues of happiness. If things cannot be the same, making them different could bring about new hope.
Consult a Professional as Needed
Even the best coping skills cannot always overwhelm depression. If you see your symptoms escalating over time despite your best efforts, take action by contacting a mental health provider.
Calling your primary care doctor, local mental health agency or another trusted resource can help move the process forward. During the coronavirus pandemic, no one should be uncomfortable or self-conscious seeking help if and when they need it.
The Recovery Village has the resources available to help someone experiencing coronavirus depression, especially if the person is also managing substance abuse as well. Contact us for more information about available options and treatment plans, including teletherapy services.
Suicide Risk During Coronavirus
In April of 2019, a text message hotline administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) received less than 1,800 messages. In April of 2020, the same SAMHSA hotline received more than 20,000 messages.
People are in crisis due to the coronavirus and COVID-19 depression. With increased depression and desperation comes increased risk of suicide.
People at risk may be experiencing a combination of intense, overwhelming and unchangeable stressors hitting them all at once. Due to the coronavirus, it common for people to experience:
- Disconnection from social contacts and social supports
- Housing and financial crises
- Poor physical health of self or others
- Childcare concerns
- An inability to access new educational or occupational opportunities
With these stressors in place but a limited ability to control the outcomes, people may feel higher levels of hopelessness and helplessness. Suicidal thoughts, attempts or completed suicides are all possible outcomes if these feelings persist.
Identifying If You or a Loved One Is Depressed or at Risk of Suicide
About 9.5 million people had serious thoughts of suicide in the last year, and the pandemic will likely increase those rates. The signs of suicide may not be obvious, so pay close attention to your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (and those of loved ones) to note the indicators.
Warning signs of suicide include:
- Thinking, talking, and acting out suicidal intentions
- Drastic increase or decrease in sleep or eating
- Staying away and isolated from others
- Dangerous use of alcohol and other drugs
- Excessive mood swings
- Violence and aggression towards others
- Making impulsive and reckless decisions
- Feeling like a burden to others
If you or a loved one are struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide, seek out emergency services immediately. Contact a suicide prevention hotline or call 911.
Beheshti, Naz. “10 Eye-Opening Statistics On The Mental Health Impact Of The Coronavirus Pandemic.” Forbes. May 28, 2020. Accessed September 3, 2020.
Mayo Clinic. “Depression (Major Depressive Disorder).” February 3, 2018. Accessed September 3, 2020.
Mental Health.gov. “Suicidal Behavior.” February 26, 2018. Accessed September 3, 2020.
National Institute on Mental Health. “Depression.” February 2018. Accessed September 3, 2020.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Manage Stress.” July 24, 2020. Accessed September 3, 2020.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.