2020 has been a year like no other. The pandemic, which first infiltrated the USA in February, has spread like wildfire from state to state, and, beyond that, throughout the world. It has changed the way we operate in our daily lives, limiting social interactions, closing our restaurants, businesses, schools, and more. As more is learned about the disease, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) has urged people to social distance from one another, wear face masks, and not go out of their homes unless necessary, among other incentives in an effort to stop the spread. All of this has made socializing more difficult, and certainly different. Many events and meetings that would ordinarily take place in person have gone virtual.
While this is the ‘new norm’ we must acclimate to as we continue to weather COVID-19, it can mean something even more ominous for those who struggle with mental illnesses. A lot of the therapies and support that assist those with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other disorders incorporate interacting with face-to-face support, whether it be therapy, peer-to-peer meetings, or attending workshops. In order to manage symptoms of these disorders, we have all had to adapt and learn how to healthily deal with new support systems in place that keep us safe.
In particular, those with depression are more susceptible to the stresses of COVID than those without, and there is a greater risk for flare-ups or major episodes, even if the person has been treating their disorder for years. On the flip side, research is showing that 20% of those who have been infected with COVID-19 will be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder within three months, including depression.
Though it can be tricky finding new coping mechanisms and routines to deal with the disruptions COVID has caused, it is possible, and will help extraordinarily in the months to come.
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the country. Research has suggested it is brought on by genetic, environmental, psychological, situational, and biological factors. Though it is more commonly found in adults, it has begun occurring in children and teens in recent years. As more is learned about COVID-19, it is now established that 20% of survivors develop anxiety, depression, insomnia, and/or other psychiatric disorders within 90 days of infection.
Depression is characterized by a consistent, persistent sad or listless mood, often leading to loss of interest in hobbies or activities once enjoyed. It can be brought on by stressful social situations or trauma (past or present), and can affect how one acts around others. Some notable symptoms include:
- Fatigue, low energy
- Changes in sleep – either too much or too little
- Evading responsibilities
- Change in appetite – eating more or less
- Thoughts of suicide
- Feeling hopeless
Depression has been found to be treated most effectively through a combination of medication and therapy. Different combinations of this work for different people, or sometimes one but not the other. It often takes time for a medical professional to work with the person to find what is best suited to their individual needs. In most cases, even those regarded as severe, treatment can be successful and allow the person to live their life with minimal symptoms.
In cases of COVID-19 survivors, depression may be from the infection’s effect on the brain and mind, as well as the trauma undergone during treatment. In places where the infections have been high and medical attention and/or supplies limited, the fear of survival and not having proper care can create extreme levels of trauma and anxiety.
COVID & Social Isolation
In previous years, entering the colder months here in New Hampshire means shorter days with much less sunlight, which is known to prompt seasonal depression and minimized social interaction. The ordinary challenges we have faced each autumn will still surface this year, but so will the added layer of the pandemic. The same precautions will likely be in place, if not more strictly imposed as the numbers rise. It may be more difficult to go for walks outside if the weather is inclement, and, depending on snowfall, getting to the store may become harder, too.
The problem is that depression thrives upon situations like this in the same way addiction does—many who experience symptoms feel angry and sad, and therefore think they should be alone so they won’t bring down others. Furthermore, if someone has been infected with COVID and must quarantine themselves, they are recommended to isolate for 14 days. This makes it difficult to communicate with others or to feel comfortable expressing fears or anxieties, which can help alleviate some of the depressive thoughts. Staying cooped up at home can make one feel like they have no schedule or nothing to look forward to, and it’s hard to stay positive.
The uncertainty around a COVID-19 vaccine and when it will be discovered can also incite feelings of fear, worry, and sadness, and that is being felt universally. With that said, all of the variables stirring up this anxiety and discouragement are far more likely to have a profound impact on those who suffer from depression.
Tips for Managing Depression
While this situation isn’t ideal for anyone and the feelings felt around it is hard to circumvent, there are ways to lessen the symptoms—and to stay connected with those around us—to ease the emotional toll.
Some of our recommendations include:
- Utilize your online community: If you have a therapist and they are not conducting in-person sessions, ask if they are offering virtual services. Having a weekly meeting set aside will keep you regimented, and if you were seeing them pre-COVID, it will give you a comforting semblance of your old routine.
- Support groups: There are many online support groups available for those suffering with depression. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) is one organization directed by peers that holds meetings focused on depression and bipolar disorder.
- Keep a journal: Even if it seems you aren’t doing much, keeping a journal will keep your brain active and allow you a safe place to put your thoughts down. This is a great way to work through fears and feelings you might be struggling with.
- Get outdoors: Go for a walk outside, preferably when the sun is out. Vitamin D plays a big role in regulating moods and can lessen feelings of depression. Nature can also bring feelings of peace and tranquility, and can get you out of your house for a little while.
- Exercise: Get your body moving! Research shows that exercise can improve your mood by distracting your mind as well as produce natural endorphins and other brain chemicals that can elevate your mindset.
- Set goals for the day: Set simple and realistic goals such as keeping up with housework, watering your plants, or reading a chapter in a book. Listening to music can also help exponentially with depressive symptoms, as can taking a hot bath or shower.
- Yoga & meditation: From simple breathing exercises to full classes you can take online (or find on YouTube), yoga and meditation can be instrumental in soothing anxiety and getting the body moving.
- Fostering a pet: If you have the means and the space available, consider fostering a pet. Many animals have been displaced because of the pandemic, and they could use the companionship, too.
- Keep in touch with friends and family: Even if you feel like isolating yourself completely, keeping a connection with a loved one is important. Especially when you’re feeling particularly down, reach out to someone to talk and ask how they are doing. It helps to help others, even if you might not feel like it at the time.
These strategies can help you structure your day around some tangible goals, but also ensure you are practicing self-care. It’s important to be aware of how you’re feeling, especially if you have severe depression.
Lastly, while it is mentally taxing to adapt to this new and uncomfortable world, know that you aren’t alone! If your symptoms are not letting up or are worsening and you feel that you might need more help, it might be time for professional help.
At NFA Behavioral Health, our full continuum of care focuses on healing the mind, body, and spirit to guide you toward a lifelong, fulfilling recovery in which you can more easily manage your depression symptoms. Our treatment philosophy incorporates many tools that can help you find a plan that works for you and addresses your individual needs.
Please don’t be afraid to reach out. Give us a call at 866.420.6222 today.