Depression and mental health during COVID-19

Much has changed in our lives so quickly. Jobs have been lost or reduced. Many graduation ceremonies have been cancelled, weddings postponed and other celebrations interrupted. Even in daily life, the inability to gather with a group of friends is disappointing and requires discipline to stay away.

COVID-19 has come into our lives like a hurricane and left a path of uncertainty. While we’re all trying to adjust to the ‘new normal,’ many are struggling to figure out what to do next. We’ve never experienced anything like this in our lifetime. It’s the unknown that is concerning to many Americans.

Outbreaks of any kind create stress

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stress during an outbreak, such as COVID-19, brings on a number of health and behavioral changes. You may experience:

  • Fear and worry about your health and that of your family members
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of mental health problems
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs

The CDC recommends using these techniques to help reduce your stress about COVID-19:

Many people don’t realize that depression is a common mental disorder. It’s the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting some 264 million people, according to the World Health Organization. Be aware of changes in the behavior or mood of close friends and family. The unexpected and unwanted changes brought on by COVID-19 may affect some people more profoundly than others.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America indicates that a major depressive episode may include a persistent sad, anxious or empty mood. Some people experience feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. You may notice that your loved one has simply lost interest in their normal hobbies or activities. Be watchful for these symptoms as well:

  • Decreased energy, fatigue or feeling slowed down
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning awakening or oversleeping
  • Low appetite and weight loss or overeating and weight gain
  • Thoughts of death, suicide or suicide attempts
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment such as headaches, digestive
    disorders and pain for which no cause can be found

How you can help someone who is depressed

Well-intentioned family members and friends often think that someone can talk themselves out of depression. “When someone is depressed, participating in everday activities can seem like trying to push a boulder up a mountain. It feels overwhelming to them. They need care to get out of a depressive episode,” says Jose Gonzalez, manager of the Zero Suicide program at University Health System.

According to Gonzalez, there are things you should and shouldn’t do when trying to help a loved one who may be struggling with depression.

What to do when trying to support someone with anxiety or depression:

  • Be empathetic, understanding and listen carefully.
  • If this is a first-time event, help dig up resources for them.
  • Encourage them to call their primary care physician or therapist.
  • If necessary, offer to help them make the call to a doctor.
  • Offer hope, say things like, ‘We’ll get through this.’
  • Let them know it’s okay to get help; it’s a smart thing to do.

What you shouldn’t do when talking to someone who needs help:

  • Don’t say, ‘You’ll get over it. It’s not a big deal.’
  • Don’t say, ‘It could be worse.’
  • Don’t say, ‘Get up tomorrow morning with a new attitude.’
  • Don’t minimize what they’re experiencing.
  • Don’t assume their depression will simply go away over time.

Gonzalez said that it’s important to take these situations seriously. “You need to take action. Get them to the next level of care – it’s like giving someone CPR. They may not have the ability to help themselves; they truly need your support – find a way to get them to a primary care doctor or to access mental health services as soon as possible.”

Because of the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic, millions of Americans covered through Medicare can now access behavioral or mental health services through telehealth appointments. Many mental health resources are now available via your phone and laptop for all ages.

Local resources that may be helpful:

Telehealth options
Bexar County’s Department of Behavioral Health
Behavioral health services through University Health System

National resources:

Crisis Text Line International
National Institute of Mental Health
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

If you or a loved one is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It is a free, 24-hour hotline available at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).