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Did COVID-19 Cause an Increase in Depression?

If you felt depressed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, you were not alone. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that global rates of anxiety and depression increased by 25%.

Over two years later, with so many children and adults reporting residual mental health symptoms, it begs the significant question: are we experiencing mental health problems at a higher rate than ever before? And if so, where do we go from here?

Understanding Depression

Depression is a mental illness that can look different for everyone, and symptoms may fluctuate in intensity, severity, and frequency.

Some of the key signs of depression include:

  • feeling relatively discouraged or hopeless most days

  • persistent sadness

  • increased mood swings and irritability

  • suicidal thoughts

  • lack of interest in your job, school, friends, or other relationships

  • increased substance use

Depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand. For example, many people with depression also experience symptoms of anxiety, such as panic attacks, nervousness, chest tightness, and a fear that others are judging them.

Many people with depression still function well. They often learn to manage their routines regardless of how they feel. But despite their relationships and outside commitments, they often feel more sluggish, irritable, and insecure compared to people who don't experience depression.

General Depressive Disorder Statistics

The National Institute of Mental Health cites that major depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in America.

Here are some recent survey data showing national statistics:

  • Approximately 21 million U.S adults experience at least one major depressive episode during their lifetime. This number represents over 8% of the population.

  • Estimates show that 17% of young people ages 12-17 have had a depressive episode.

  • Depression rates are highest among young adults aged 18-25.

  • The prevalence of depression is higher in women than men.

  • In 2020, approximately 66% of adults with depression received mental health treatment.

  • People in the lowest economic brackets are 1.5-3x more likely to experience depression than those in the highest income brackets.

Remember that mental health data isn't always accurate, and survey research can be skewed and underreported. Because depressive disorders are largely stigmatized, people may avoid disclosing the severity of their symptoms.

Did The COVID-19 Pandemic Cause People to Experience Depression?

Mental illness is inherently complex, and experts typically look at clusters of risk factors when examining depressive disorders. It's far too simplistic to say that a certain event "causes" depression and anxiety.

That said, the pandemic was so clearly disruptive to everyday life. Think about it- many businesses shut down their in-person operations, workplaces suddenly turned remote, and children couldn't go to school. It was a complete turn of events- what was supposed to just be a two-week event splashed into several years.

During that time, we faced health anxiety, economic uncertainty, and lived in a strange time with unknown outcomes. We were also advised not to see our loved ones while being inundated with tragic stories about death and dying. Stress, in so many ways, appeared to be at an all-time high.

It can be, therefore, assumed that the COVID-19 pandemic may have triggered a type of situational depression for many people around the world. Likewise, the residual symptoms many people still experience today mirror that of collective trauma.

Covid-19, Depression, and Suicide

Suicide is also a complicated issue, and researchers are still examining the true impact of how the pandemic affected depression and suicidal thoughts.

Here's what the research does show: Among young people, both self-harm and suicide rates rose- likely due to exacerbated mental health issues, disruptions in typical relationships, and barriers associated with using typical coping skills. The report shows that suicide rates were highest between August-November 2020, but they remained elevated throughout 2021.

Depression doesn't always coincide with suicide. Many people with depression do not intend to end their lives. But having a depressive disorder significantly increases the risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts.

It's important to know the signs of suicide. Some people don't always outwardly express their depression, and many people affected by mental illness try to act as if things are normal. Some of the clear warning signs include:

  • increase in depression and anxiety

  • preoccupation with death and dying

  • increase in mood swings

  • giving away belongings without a logical explanation

  • feeling a brief surge of relief (because there is a sense of peace with what will happen)

  • making a plan to end your life and accruing the necessary means

What Caused People to Feel Depressed?

We were all affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. But some people were undoubtedly more affected than others, and certain risk factors may have predisposed them to depression and anxiety.

Lack of Human Connection

Yes, we logged into Zoom and Facetimed our loved ones, but were we really connected? Maybe not. Research increasingly shows the benefits of face-to-face interactions. Nonverbal exchanges enhance intimacy and maintain trust. When we're with other people, we're more creative, collaborative, and productive.

Yes, you may have been connected to the family in your immediate household. But that hardly compares to our inherent need to interact with diverse groups of people.

Anxiety and Uncertainty

In the early months of COVID-19, symptoms of anxiety seemed to skyrocket. Our collective mental health was fragile- we had very little data about the virus, and we had even less information about what was going to happen next.

When would school reopen? Would your elderly parents catch this awful disease and die? Was the economy going to crash? Would this pandemic ever be over?

Many of us asked ourselves these impossible, anxiety-laden questions throughout the pandemic. We felt frustrated because we didn't have answers. In addition, we felt scared because we thought bad things would continue happening.

Learned Helplessness

Helplessness is a key risk factor associated with depression. While most of us know we can't control all aspects of life, we typically enjoy a significant amount of predictability throughout the day. The Covid-19 pandemic, of course, impacted this structure.

Someone with a preexisting anxiety disorder may have felt the impact of this disruption more than an average person. But over time, many people experienced symptoms related to helplessness and despair.

Political Stress

No matter your particular stance on politics, we can all agree that the past few years have been contentious. In many ways, people in the US seem more divided than ever before.

The pandemic certainly caused and heightened some of this tension. And in many ways, we're still experiencing the gravity of political stress.

How to Look After Your Mental Health Now

If you still feel depressed or anxious, it's important to recognize and take care of your symptoms. Early intervention can be key. But even if you've been struggling for a while, you don't need to continue suffering.

Here are some tips:

Be Mindful of Rumination

Depression and anxiety often correlate with people ruminating over the past or future. This takes away your ability to be in the present moment.

If you notice yourself obsessing, consider gently intervening with yourself by:

  • taking a few deep breaths

  • reminding yourself of what you can and can't control

  • engaging in a pleasant, distracting activity

  • talking to a friend or supportive loved one

Even if it's tempting, try to resist the urge to doomscroll or doom surf through bad news. While you may want to stay informed about current events, holding the burden of such heavy information may cause more harm than good.

Know Your Risk Factors

It's always a good idea to be mindful of your mental health triggers. For instance, do certain places or people typically tend to make you feel depressed? Do you notice feeling bad about yourself during certain times of the day?

Review these risk factors and consider making a list of ways you can cope when you experience stress. This type of self-analysis is crucial for sustainable change. You may not cope perfectly all the time, but it's important to acknowledge making progress when that happens.

Secure the Right Mental Health Treatment

It's no secret that mental health issues have become a public health epidemic. Unfortunately, access to mental health treatment continues to remain a barrier. Seeking care can be challenging- but it's important to advocate for what you need.

Therapy and medication tend to be the best treatment options for people with depression. Remember that finding the right combination of care can be a trial-and-error process. This doesn't make you a failure- it's just important to be open to which options may help you recover.

How We Help

High-quality mental health services are more important than ever before. COVID-19 changed the landscape for addressing mental health needs. People of any age are more apt to talk about their mental health, and we consider that a good thing!

At Resurface Group, we treat a variety of mental disorders. No matter how you were affected by the pandemic, we are here to support you. Our treatment will address your mental health concerns and give you the relief and practical coping skills you need to live a more meaningful, present life.

Contact us today to get started!

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