Because of COVID-19, I’ve been experiencing what I think might be depression. Is it possible that the pressures I’m under are causing depressive symptoms, even if I’ve never felt this way before?

Let’s face it, COVID-19 has made this a depressing time. So many things have gone wrong:

  • You have to worry about catching a scary, invisible, possibly fatal virus.
  • With the lockdown, your schedule is suddenly out of whack.
  • You are probably taking “social distancing” measures, which at least physically distance you from people you care about.
  • You or your family may have lost your jobs, income, or other support due to the lockdown.
  • You might even have lost a family member because of COVID-19.

Issues like these take a toll on virtually all of us. Here in New York City, where I live and practice, there hasn’t been much to do or many places we can safely go. Life doesn’t feel real, although over time, it does feel extremely frustrating. People are either isolated, which can feel bad, or stuck together on top of one another in the same house, where tempers can flare.

Despite all this stress, many people are likely to be resilient: they won’t like living through a time like this, but they’ll get through. Some people, though, will feel the weight of these symptoms and develop clinical depression, which includes:

  1.  An almost uninterrupted bad mood, which may be worst at a specific time of day, such as when you first wake up.
  2. Difficulty in experiencing pleasure doing things you usually love to do.
  3. Feelings of guilt, self-criticism, helplessness, worthlessness, hopelessness, and anxiety.
  4. Disturbed sleep and appetite.
  5. The most worrisome symptom: the feeling that life isn’t worth living.

What can you do?

If you have many of the symptoms I’ve listed above (which is not an exhaustive list), you should speak to a mental health professional to get an evaluation. Depression is a medical disorder that can emerge under extreme stress – which we’re now under. It’s treatable, and it’s not your fault. There are effective treatments – including talk therapy and medications – and you might benefit from either or both. If you’re feeling suicidal, it’s crucial to seek out help right away.

If you’re not having all those symptoms but just feeling down, frustrated, and demoralized, that may be a normal response to a down, frustrating, and demoralizing time. Here are several other steps you can take to try to improve things.

  1. Recognize that you and the people around you are going through a crisis that feels like it’s already gone on too long – but won’t last forever. In very upsetting times, you’ll have very upsetting feelings. That’s normal.
  2. It’s helpful to have a structure to your day. If you’ve stopped working, or if you’re working from home, try to create a regular schedule for yourself. It doesn’t have to fill every hour of the day, but getting up at a regular time to do regular things, and going to bed at a regular time, helps your mood.
  3. The risk of “social distancing” is that you may lose your social supports. Social support – which means having people you can depend upon and can talk to about your feelings – protects against depression and many other psychiatric and medical problems. Keeping your feelings to yourself can make them feel like painful secrets, whereas sharing them with other people can be a relief and can help you feel understood. At a time when you’re physically separated from others, it’s important to try to maintain contact. Set up regular times to talk.
  4. Exercise burns anxiety and is good for your mood, too. It’s hard to push yourself to exercise when you’re feeling down, but you’ll feel better afterwards.
  5. Spending too much time on social media is a risk factor for anxiety and depression. You may want to stay caught up with the news and with your online friends, but don’t overdo it.

I hope this is helpful. We will get through this.

About the Doc

About the Doc

John Markowitz, MD, is Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University in New York City and a researcher who studies the benefits of different treatments for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and personality disorders. Dr. Markowitz is a member of DBSA’s Scientific Advisory Board.