Coronavirus Depression is increasing in the United States, in no small part due to COVID-19. According to recent reports, depressive symptoms are at least three times higher than they were before the pandemic hit, suggesting that the emotional cost of living through this time is enormous.
For those who are vulnerable to depression already, this time is even more fraught.
Al (whose name has been changed for privacy) suffered bouts of depression on and off for years, but had made the decision to go off of his medications near the end of 2019. Then COVID hit, and it was hard to keep his mood from plummeting.
“I have more depressive symptoms than I did a year ago—more negative feelings about my relationship, about friends, in general,” he says. “If your imagination runs to the negative, this apocalyptic scenario just confirms your negative bias about how things are and how things turn out.”
Similarly, Michelle was already going through relationship struggles and worrying about her child’s mental health before COVID hit. All of the changes the pandemic wrought exacerbated these stressors, making her feel depressed.
“Whatever else felt stable in my life got knocked out from under me, and there was nothing left that I felt I could count on,” she says. “My social life disappeared or changed beyond recognition, and I didn’t know what the future of my job was, either. I felt completely rudderless.”
To some extent, all of us may be at risk for coronavirus depression during the pandemic, says Nancy Liu, clinical professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
“You’re going to feel down. You’re going to feel a little hopeless or helpless,” she says. “You’re not going to be as eager to connect with people and are going to withdraw.” We should expect to feel anxious and depressed, as we would in any kind of disaster.
While we are all prone to feeling down these days, depression differs from normal sorrow or anxiety and is far more debilitating, says psychologist Shelby Harris, author of the book The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia. It persists, unrelenting, for weeks at a time and leads to an inability to function normally.
Problems with sleep, significant weight loss or gain, not being able to get out of bed, lacking motivation or sense of self-worth, and finding no enjoyment from everyday activities—these are signs that you may be entering a depressive state.
“If you find you have trouble focusing, concentrating, or doing what you need to do in life because of these issues, consider having it assessed further,” she says.
Coronavirus depression can also be life-threatening when it becomes a precursor to suicide. Given the high price of depression, it’s important to understand what causes it, how to identify it, and the steps we can take to counter it. Here are some of the things we can do until the pandemic ends to look out for one another, manage coronavirus depression and stay healthier.
1. Get professional help
When Michelle started feeling deeply depressed, she knew she should be concerned, having experienced suicidal thoughts in the past. After her partner expressed concern, she called a therapist.
“That was step one,” she says. “I needed that outlet, to be able to talk to someone who I didn’t have to worry about burdening with my depressive thoughts.”
Liu encourages people to turn to therapy if depressed, because it can be very effective for overcoming mood disorders. But she bemoans the fact that many community clinics are overwhelmed right now, and some people lack the means to reach help.
“There’s just a huge need, but not everybody has access to secure Wi-Fi and Zoom to get remote treatment,” she says. “I worry that only a certain subset of the population is getting the services they need.”