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The Pandemic & Depression: I don’t know if I can survive this.

COVID-19 has changed nearly every aspect of life – finances, relationships, careers, and more have been directly affected. Most people have experienced some level of fear, anger, sadness, or loneliness. From January to September 2020, over 1.5 million people took a mental health screen through Mental Health America’s (MHA’s) Online Screening Program. Since the beginning of the pandemic, over 80 percent of those who took a depression screen scored with moderate to severe symptoms of depression. In September 2020, 37 percent said that they experienced thoughts of suicide more than half or nearly every day of the previous two weeks[i].

These increased rates are concerning but aren’t necessarily shocking. The risk of contracting the disease is traumatizing itself. On top of that, daily life has changed in a way that has increased isolation and loneliness, food and housing insecurity, and domestic violence. This level of added stress can trigger symptoms of anxiety and depression in people who have never experienced them before and can worsen symptoms in people who were already struggling. If you’ve been feeling hopeless or having thoughts of suicide lately, you aren’t alone – and it can get better. If you are in immediate danger, call 911 or go to your local emergency room. If you need to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text MHA to 741-741 to be connected to a trained crisis counselor 24/7.

You don’t need to be happy.  

It’s easy to be discouraged about the state of the world, especially right now. It’s okay to feel those negative feelings even if they’re painful or uncomfortable. And with everything going on, being happy might seem impossible – so let go of finding happiness. You can stay angry or disappointed, but it’s important to have hope. Getting through this time in history isn’t about liking how things are, but about believing things can change for the better. 

Just like there was a time before COVID-19, there will be a time after COVID-19.

As hard as it may feel to survive each day right now, remember that you won’t have to survive COVID-19 times forever. Some of the problems you’re facing that are contributing to your hopelessness (like social isolation) may subside once the pandemic is under control. Others won’t, like if you lost a loved one or a great job. It’s okay to mourn your old life and those you’ve lost, but don’t give up new possibilities and remaining relationships. It’s probably true that life will never go back to “normal” – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good again.

Plug in to your communities.

Isolation is a huge risk factor for many with mental health concerns and loneliness can make already existing mental health struggles even harder to manage. You may feel trapped and alone right now – and to some extent, we’re all kind of stuck in our own bubbles to stay safe. Even though you may not be able to have the amount of social interaction that you want, know that most other people (yes, even your friends!) likely feel the same. When you have the energy to text someone, do it. If you’re up for a virtual movie night, start scheduling one. Join some Facebook groups (based on hobbies, interests, where you live, etc.) even if you never post. Feeling like you are a part of something goes a long way in keeping you invested in life.

Know you aren’t the only one struggling.

You might find reading about what you’re experiencing to be helpful – it’s validating to know that what you’re feeling is “normal” and can help you feel less alone in your overwhelming thoughts. There are a lot of options on MHA’s COVID-19 Hub and Screening2Supports site for learning more. Here are some titles to get you started:

Reach out for help.

Despite the pandemic, help is still available and it’s important to seek that out if you’re thinking about suicide:

[i] Mental Health America. (2020). COVID-19 and mental health: a growing crisis.