Covid Depression

Prolonged Lockdowns, Political Unrest, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and Holiday Depression Create a Perfect Storm

These days, public health is big in the public eye. But physical health isn’t the only thing you need to look for these days—what about mental health?

The current moment carries a combination of major risks for depression. The coming winter brings with it seasonal depression, and election and holiday stress can lead to depressive symptoms as well. And don’t forget to consider the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This isn’t meant to make you feel afraid of the current situation. It just means that if you are feeling depressed right now, you’re not alone. Rates of depression have indeed gone up in the last several months.

We’ll walk you through the various forms and causes of depression you might be experiencing. And if any of these sound familiar to you or people you know, now is the time to seek treatment. Good help is out there.

The Effects of Social Isolation

Social distancing entered the public consciousness as a physical safety measure in the pandemic. It can also describe a mental and emotional shift that has taken place as people avoid gatherings and stay at home.

You might be missing the gentle waves of support you used to experience at work, in your neighborhood, and with friends.

Loneliness and Age

Even before the pandemic, experts knew loneliness was a health risk factor for the elderly. Now, this effect might be even more pronounced.

Depression and isolation often go together. Elderly individuals who already feel isolated and far from loved ones might face increased difficulty now.

Many younger people are experiencing this loneliness as well, but they might have more options to see each other while separated by a safe distance. Older adults have to take extra precautions as they are a high-risk community for COVID-19. Younger people might also be better prepared to meet each other virtually.

Lack of Community

A support system is incredibly important for bouncing back from tough times. During these past several months of the pandemic, though, you might have realized that your networks have grown less robust than usual.

Many social gatherings are being canceled or moved online. And in those online spaces, it can be hard to strike up conversation and make new friends.

Have you been keeping in touch with the friends you have?

Mental Health During and After a Disaster

Time will tell how the mental health effects of COVID-19 will manifest after the physical health threat is gone. In the meantime, we can observe the usual patterns of disasters in general Waves of depression and other mental illnesses often come even after a disaster is over. For example, suicide rates rose in Puerto Rico after Hurricane María and stayed high years after the fact. And then there are long-term effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression.

We might see some of the same patterns on a global scale when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some researchers are studying the pandemic as part of the typical mental health patterns following mass traumatic events.

According to a September study from JAMA Network, depression rates tripled in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors of the study attribute this to a variety of COVID-19 effects, including deaths of loved ones and financial distress.

Loss of Trust

Before the start of the pandemic, you might have found it hard to imagine that such a thing could happen. And once it started ravaging communities on a local and global scale, there might not have been time to fully process the shock.

At the same time, you are being asked to proceed normally in many ways. If you still have your job, you are expected to show up to work—whether at home or in a specialized workplace setting. And if you’re a student, you’re likely still expected to show up to some form of school.

For some people, this might not allow enough time or mental space to process how hard this pandemic has been.

Financial Distress

One thing that can cause emotional distress is economic distress. And when you’re searching for employment in today’s job market, this alone can create incredible stress.

When COVID-19 hit the United States, huge numbers of people lost their jobs and had a very small or nonexistent financial safety net. According to a September 2020 report from the Pew Research Center, half the people who experienced this pandemic job loss still haven’t been able to get a new job.

The JAMA Network study about the tripled rates of depression puts this directly in terms of mental health. The authors write that depression odds during the pandemic were increased 1.5 times for people who had less than $5,000 in their savings account (compared to those with more than that amount). People who’ve had to dip into their savings due to unemployment might be subject to that risk.

The same study also noted differences in household income, not just savings. Low-income households had higher odds of depression than high-income households.

Grieving a Death

Then there’s the harsh reality that over 200,000 Americans have already died from the COVID-19 pandemic. For people whose loved ones passed away from the disease, grieving might be strange and uncomfortable due to social distancing measures.

The experience of grieving a death can intensify existing depression or lead to situational depression. And during the pandemic, you might be hearing about deaths of multiple people in your life.

If this is the case for you, you should know that you’re not alone. Depression and grief go together for many people. If you aren’t already seeing a therapist or otherwise getting mental healthcare, now might be the time to start.

Racial Oppression

For many racially marginalized individuals, racial oppression is a disaster that perseveres through generations. The oppression may change form and look different from era to era, but it continues to weigh heavily on the psyches of marginalized groups.

During this pandemic, the continual threat of police brutality against Black people has led to widespread protests.

In this era of video footage of death by police brutality, it might be helpful to seek extra social or mental support each time news coverage of a new death comes out. This will not change the conditions of the killings, but it can help you retain the energy to live your life and fight against oppressive structures.

The Election That Never Seems to End

Presidential elections always bring waves of heightened tension and stress, but this year’s election came with an added difficulty: the claims of voter fraud and subsequent prolonging of election coverage.

By this point, the outcome of the election is solidified, but there is a strain of distrust that voters, certain media outlets, and even politicians have perpetuated. This is also a time when the supreme court has experienced a major change (the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett), so more eyes are on the government than ever.

Threats Against Immigrants

One reason why some individuals are watching the election results with bated breath is their own immigrant status. A new presidential administration will be able to make new choices about immigration rules. This can determine whether someone stays or has to leave.

Fears About Healthcare

Another reason many people are so emotionally affected by the uncertainty of the presidential election is that the outcome may determine their healthcare options.

Coupled with the health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (both physical and mental), this issue can have a new urgency it didn’t have before.

Longer Nights and Shorter Days

Another thing impacting mental health as we move into the colder months is the change of season. A lack of sunlight can dampen mood and lead to depressive symptoms.

The Impact of the Sun

The sun doesn’t just give us light, warmth, and plant food. It can also be a crucial component in determining people’s moods.

Many people have trouble feeling good in the cold and dark of winter, and some develop a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

SAD is a form of depression, and it has many of the same symptoms as major depression. If you have seasonal affective disorder, you can look into depression treatment options like talk therapy and medication. And another interesting option you have here is light therapy.

Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is something you can do at home with a light therapy box. The bright light from this box mimics natural outdoor sunlight, and it can bring some relief to winter days.

If light therapy works for you, this can be a great alternative or supplement to other forms of SAD treatment. It might give you fewer side effects than medication.

How to Tell if It's Seasonal Depression

In the past, when you’ve experienced low mood and trouble functioning in the winter, did things change when the spring started? If not, you might be going through a different type of depression, like major depression, rather than seasonal affective disorder. Talk to a mental health professional to get an expert opinion on your particular case.

But if you want to take an educated guess on your own, it might help to look through the specific symptoms and signs of seasonal affective disorder.

Here are some things to look out for when you’re wondering whether you have SAD:

SAD is usually associated with winter, but in some cases, it can also be tied to the summer months. You might be at greater risk if you live far from the equator since the seasons are more pronounced in these areas.

COVID-19 and Winter

This winter also brings with it new concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Rates of COVID-19 have risen in many states lately, and it may get worse as people spend more and more of their time indoors rather than in the open air. Outdoor, socially distanced gatherings may have been possible in the summer, but they become more difficult with the arrival of winter.

Winter also brings with it the seasonal flu we are used to experiencing every year. This is a concern as more hospital beds are being used for COVID-19 patients. Some experts worry about the arrival of a “twin-demic,” where the seasonal flu and COVID-19 might intensify each other’s effects.

Holiday gatherings can also contribute to COVID clusters as families and friends travel and enter each other’s homes. And when people decide not to gather, this can intensify the feelings of holiday depression that you’ll learn about below.

A Blue Christmas

Some people see the winter holiday season as a bright spot in an otherwise dreary time. For some people, though, holidays can trigger unwelcome changes in mood.

If you have trouble enjoying the holidays, you might have something called holiday depression.

What is Holiday Depression?

You may be wondering whether the “holiday” in holiday depression refers to the winter holidays or just holidays in general. Well, the answer is both.

Holiday depression can occur in response to any day of special importance, but it may be more serious or common during November and December. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve—these are all holidays centered on gathering, and they all happen in the span of these two months. You might not celebrate all of these special days, but even the proximity of two of them so close together can compound the experience of holiday depression.

People who go through holiday depression often go through feelings of loneliness and disconnectedness.

Why Holiday Depression Happens

Holidays are often thought of as happy, joyous times—so why do so many people experience depression around the holidays?

Sometimes a cultural emphasis on family is the trigger. Deaths, estrangements, and childhood trauma can all make family a sensitive topic. During the holidays, there can be pressure to think about family or connect with them.

Understandably, this can be difficult for people who can’t easily access their loved ones. They might feel the loss of these relationships more acutely during the holidays than at other times of the year.

Holiday depression can also happen to people who have experienced a traumatic event at a holiday in the past. For example, if a parent of yours passed away around Christmas years ago, the unique sights, smells, and sounds of Christmas might remind you of that time in your life.

Types of Depressive Disorders

You’ve learned about the reasons why some people might be more prone to depressive symptoms these days, but many people would be depressed regardless. Depression is a fairly common mental illness, and major depression isn’t the only depressive disorder out there. For example, people with bipolar disorder experience many of the same things that people with major depression go through

These depressive disorders might have been brought on or intensified by a huge life event, but they can also occur seemingly for no reason at all.

When someone close to you is experiencing depression, it might remind you of people who are undergoing something very sad and reacting to that sadness. But in cases of depression, that mood often lasts much longer than usual or interferes with their ability to function.

If you’re wondering whether you or someone in your life is depressed, it might help to think about changes. Are you (or the person) sleeping less than usual—or more than usual? Are you losing your appetite or eating more?

All of these can be symptoms of depression. It’s not so much the direction of the change but that there is a change.

Major Depression

Also called major depressive disorder or unipolar depression (as opposed to bipolar disorder), major depression is something about 16 million U.S. adults have experienced.

Major depression is not always a lifelong condition, but it can be. People can also have it for shorter periods of time, like weeks or months.

There is a range of symptoms related to major depression. One of these is suicidal ideation, but others include lack of energy and feelings of grief. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, you might be interested in treatment options like our residential suicide prevention program.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder consists of two signature states: depression and mania. For many people, these occur one after another.

When people with bipolar disorder experience a depressive episode, they may experience changes in eating, sleeping, grooming habits, and the ability to enjoy what they used to. They might then experience the opposite in a manic or hypomanic episode.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)

Persistent depressive disorder, also known as dysthymia or chronic depressive disorder, is a condition that lasts for at least two years. Some people think of it as a less intense, chronic variant of major depression, but it’s hard to define intensity here.

People with persistent depressive disorder might experience low self-esteem and a general outlook of hopelessness. Because it might have been years before they started feeling this way, they may feel like they’ve always lived like this. The depression can occasionally seem to lift, but it often returns—hence the word “persistent” in persistent depressive disorder.

Hybrid Depression

So what happens when you have multiple forms of depression? Does your brain switch out one for the other? Or do the forms of depression compound?

You’ll likely have to talk to a mental health professional to figure out your particular situation, but it is true that certain types of depression increase the risk of developing other types.

When people talk about different causes of depression coming together, they are often thinking on a population level. For example, the JAMA Network study on “tripled” depression during COVID-19 is not claiming that people who already had depression before the pandemic now have it three times worse. The authors are talking about the increased number of people who exhibit depressive symptoms.

Double Depression

It is completely possible—and even common—for an individual to experience more than one kind of depression. Many people with persistent depressive disorder also experience a period of major depression at some point in their lives. This is known as “double depression.”

While this might seem like a perfect storm situation, it’s actually quite common. More than half of people with persistent depressive disorder develop double depression at some point in their lives.

This usually manifests as a worsening of the usual depressive symptoms. So if you’ve been dealing with more—or more intense—depressive symptoms lately, you might be going through double depression. Talk to a therapist or psychiatrist (or both!) to figure out the best treatment plan for you.

 

Hybrid COVID Depression

The loneliness that people with holiday depression normally feel in the winter months might be compounded due to COVID-19. With social distancing measures in place and the CDC recommending against travel, the holidays this year might feel more isolating than ever.

So if you’re already experiencing holiday depression, make sure to prepare a strong support system this year. You might be restricted from seeing important people in your life, but virtual conversations and check-ins can make a big difference.

Don't Be Afraid to Reach Out

You wear a mask and wash your hands because you know COVID-19 risks are high these days. So why not seek mental health help in the midst of increased risks of depression?

COVID depression, seasonal depression, election depression, and holiday depression can all be reasons why the current moment is hard for you right now. And if you already have a form of depression, like persistent depressive disorder, things could be even more difficult.

What’s important to know is that you don’t have to go through it alone. Take a look through the different types of treatment we offer. And if you’d like to get started, just give us a call at (714) 790-9784.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, November 27). COVID-19: Holiday Celebrations. Retrieved December 1, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html

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Kerr, M. (2017, February 08). Holiday Depression: Statistics & How to Deal (T. J. Legg Ph.D., CRNP, Ed.). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/holidays

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