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Depression Is On The Rise During The Pandemic. But Here's How To Find Help Along The Way

The emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic is a lot worse than experts projected.
Katherine Streeter for NPR
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The emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic is a lot worse than experts projected.

TW: Discussions of depression and self harm.

The coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating our mental health.

A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows depression and anxiety are on the rise. And the number of people experiencing symptoms of depression are three times worse than before the pandemic. The emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic is a lot worse than experts projected.

“We have to essentially isolate and quarantine and keep ourselves apart,” says Dr. Aprile Andelle, a therapist and mental health advocate in South Florida. And those efforts to stay safe take away some of the coping skills we use to deal with chronic stress and mental health issues, like spending time with loved ones.

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But there are things you can do like exercise, meditation, connecting with family and friends or learning something new to deal with the stress of this past year. There’s evidence these things work.

But Andelle says if you're isolating and not taking advantage of what you can do, it’s an indication you may need more support than normal.

WLRN spoke with her about the signs and symptoms of depression, what to do, how to cope and when to get help.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

WLRN: It's been nine months and we've constantly heard about CDC recommendations in regards to minimizing contact with other people and for a lot of us, that means isolation. How have you seen COVID-19 affecting the mental health of your patients?

ANDELLE: I see that my clients are working harder than normal to maintain their mental health. Meaning that, the intentional effort, the struggle of staying well, of keeping themselves together, of managing their mental health challenges that are specific to them, and then maintaining their regular, their everyday responsibilities, their relationships and their work. They're putting in far more effort than normal to stay the course.

Personally, I've been struggling with doing simple things right now, it just kind of hits me out of nowhere and it leads me down this path where I just want to lay down and sleep all day. How can we find things to look forward to right now?

The fatigue, the mental drain and strain, it’s really very real right now. When that is happening, you want to make sure you are intentionally touching base with yourself, or checking in with yourself, to practice things that bring you peace, things that bring you joy, things that are important to you and making sure that you’re focused to do some of those things every single day.

What should people look out for regarding signs and symptoms of depression?

Whenever you are going through depression, it usually is tracked with symptoms of extreme fatigue, exhaustion, you also have difficulty focusing on specific things, you can find yourself withdrawing and moving into isolation. COVID is making us do that to a certain extent.

Other things include lack of enjoyment in doing things you normally do and also physical fatigue and also physical aches and pains. You don't realize how much your body shows up with symptoms that are indicative of depression.

When should someone reach out for help if they're struggling?

When you’re feeling so down that you realize you’re unable to bounce back as quickly or as effectively as you used to. When you’re not feeling like yourself, when you’re in bed and not doing the same things that you do every single day the same.

Also, when you are not maintaining your regular hygiene routine, so if you are not brushing your teeth, or taking a shower on a regular basis, that’s another red flag. The biggest one I would share, actually two things, is the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. When that starts entering into your realm, that's a big signal that you are definitely in need of professional support. Definitely schedule with your doctor and also consider a therapist. Therapy is there for that reason, to talk through the depression.

What if someone has thoughts of hurting themselves?

That’s a tough road to be at. Because a lot usually comes before that and by the time you’re getting to that point, there’s a lot of pain, there’s a lot of hurt going on. If you’re at that point, that means that your brain has gone to the process of no longer being able to think beyond black and white, beyond pain and well. The abstract is not there. So they start thinking, "I just don’t want to be here anymore."

What I would share with them is to open up. Please don’t keep it to yourself. It’s hard because you have to figure out who you are going to talk to, to tell them about what you’re experiencing. The other thing is professional help. That's what therapists are there for. When you’re in such a deep dark place, your therapist is there to listen and talk it out with you.

If you or someone you love notices you going through some of these things, how can they check in on you?

I think it's just important to ask and one of the easiest questions is: "Are you okay?"

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If you or someone you know is in crisis or having thoughts of hurting yourself, help is available.

You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor 24/7 in the U.S. and Canada.