Depression and the Pandemic

In this seventh month of the pandemic many people are feeling mentally challenged due to the ongoing social isolation and financial uncertainty. Researchers have found increasing levels of anxiety, trauma, substance abuse and suicidal ideation, especially among young adults and ethnic/racial minorities. Is depression on the rise, too? Apparently so. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control, symptoms of depressive disorder increased four times in the United States during April–June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.

Clearly, depression is a growing problem at this time, You may have feelings of sadness and hopelessness and wonder if these are signs of clinical depression. Maybe. Or maybe (as Nancy Wartik writes in the New York Times), it’s just a fleeting and not unreasonable bad mood. Or (as psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman speculates), the funk you’re experiencing is simply boredom that is the natural reaction to the lockdown’s restriction of your usual activities.

To understand the difference between major depression and less serious forms of emotional distress, it’s important to recognize the mental and physical symptoms of depression:

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Lack of energy, where even small tasks are difficult to accomplish
  • Marked increase or decrease in appetite, with corresponding weight gain or loss
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or physical movement
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt or self-blame
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts or attempts

Major depressive disorder is characterized by the persistent occurrence of such symptoms. Less frequent occurrence is typical of milder forms of depression. If you’re uncertain about the severity of your own symptoms, consider taking this short self-diagnostic test. If severe, seek the help of a mental health professional. Clinical depression can usually be treated successfully with a combination of therapy and medication.

Regular self-care can help alleviate less serious forms of depression during the Covid pandemic. Here are some suggestions for cultivating a better outlook:

  • Find things that give you joy: uplifting music, a funny video, spending time in nature, playing with your children or pets.
  • Find healthy activities to take your mind off negative thinking: cooking, gardening, learning to play a musical instrument or other new hobby.
  • Maintain a healthy routine: commit to regular exercise, eating regular wholesome meals, and following good sleep habits.
  • Limit consumption of news and social media that fuels negativity and fear.
  • Find ways to connect with others: open up and share your feelings with friends and loved ones — even if it’s long-distance.
  • Practice a daily relaxation technique: meditation, mindfulness or breathing exercise.
  • Practice gratitude: be realistic about your current circumstances, but be thankful for the positive, beautiful things in your life.

This is a stressful, uncertain time. Many people are dealing with loneliness, financial insecurity, illness or the loss of a loved one. We don’t know if life will return to what we used to consider “normal.” Therefore, we need to be more okay not knowing what is to come. And whatever does happen, know there are always constructive steps you can take to combat fear, sadness and depression.

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