- A new study found that depression symptoms are three times higher during the COVID-19 lockdown.
- Experts say the COVID-19 pandemic is a traumatic event of a much larger scale.
- It has caused physical, emotional, and psychological distress, and not just for patients of the virus.
While we have been so focused on the physical impact of COVID-19 and ways to stop the spread, we may have let another condition in under the radar: depression.
In a recent study, researchers analyzed survey data from 1,441 participants, all U.S. adults aged 18 years or older.
It found that depression symptoms were three times higher during COVID-19 lockdown than before the pandemic, up from 8.5 percent before COVID-19 to 27.8 percent during.
COVID-19 is a large-scale traumatic event
The COVID-19 pandemic is very much a large-scale traumatic event. It has caused physical, emotional, and psychological distress, and not just for patients of the virus.
While we have been working tirelessly to keep our faces covered, wash our hands, and stay 6 feet apart from everyone, including our loved ones, we may not have realized how the pandemic and quarantine has chipped away at our mental health.
Policies put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 disrupted daily life for most people in the United States.
Twenty million people filed for unemployment between the start of the pandemic and mid-April.
As of mid-April, 42 states were under stay-at-home advisories or shelter-in-place policies, which touched the lives of 316 million people, according to the study.
“Results suggest that the rates of depression symptomatology are three times higher during the pandemic compared to before the pandemic,” said Dr. Brittany LeMonda, senior neuropsychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City. “Undoubtedly, there are many factors contributing to this increase in mood symptoms, including increased social isolation, economic hardships, and exposure to other stressors.”
These are not small disturbances.
The findings are on par with those from other major traumatic events. For example, after September 11, 2001, 9.6 percent of Manhattan residents had symptoms consistent with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Exposure to large-scale traumatic events are associated with increased burden of mental illness in the population affected,” the study reported.
Contributing factors to depression
The study found among participants that there were fewer people with no symptoms of depression and more people with more symptoms during COVID-19 than before COVID-19. It also found that certain groups were at greater risk of depression symptoms, such as lower income groups and those that have less than $5,000 in household savings. They had a 50 percent greater risk of depression symptoms than those of higher income.
But income isn’t the only factor. Isolation and uncertainty contribute to depression symptoms in people of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
“The rates of depression have significantly increased during the pandemic because people are more socially isolated, have less structure and routine, and more uncertainty about the future, which leads to doubt and negative predictions,” said Dr. Collin Reiff, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health.
Beyond that, he added, there is the change in the “big picture.” “What does this do to the plans people had? What if they were about to start a job and now they have a financial hardship as a result of it being delayed six months? What if they lost a significant other or family member and now have to face life without that person?”
On top of it all, there is no way to know when it will all end. Needless to say, it is understandable why depression symptoms are on the rise.
How to address depression symptoms during COVID-19
There are many ways to help ease symptoms of depression even during a pandemic.
Depression is a common condition that affects millions of people in the United States and around the world. This means that there are verified and trusted methods for dealing with its symptoms so that you can get back to living and enjoying your life.
“Identifying those at risk for mood symptoms — for example, those with a history of depression or anxiety, substance abuse history, those facing long-term unemployment, or those who feel a sense of isolation from others — is vital for early detection and intervention,” said LeMonda. “Recognizing warning signs in our friends and family members, such as feelings of hopelessness and withdrawal from others, can be a way to connect individuals with the appropriate services before symptoms worsen.”
For those who may not know if they are struggling with depression, symptoms can include:
- low energy
- weight loss
- low mood
- feeling like a burden to others
- feelings of guilt
- suicidal ideation
“Based on the symptoms, you can decide how you want to approach it,” Reiff said. “It could be as simple as developing a semblance of structure or routine to your day, or setting a reminder to take time for yourself, even if it’s just an hour.”
There is also psychotherapy, which is one of the most valued tools when it comes to improving mental health.
“To suddenly feel like you have someone to listen and understand you and allow you to see things from a different perspective — that’s worth a lot,” said Reiff. “Especially when someone is struggling with depression.”
Additionally for some people medication such as antidepressants can help.
LeMonda said in the midst of a pandemic and recession one way to help is simply to reach out to family and friends and check in on their mental health.
“Everyone is struggling in one way or another during COVID-19. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help or share your experiences with those close to you,” LeMonda said. “Chances are, you’ll find you’re not alone.”