Depression During a Pandemic

October 26, 2021

Increase of People Feeling Depressed

Research shows the COVID-19 pandemic caused more people to develop depression. Whether the unexpected isolation or drastic lifestyle changes increased these numbers, those who are dealing with depression or feeling psychological changes need support.

The quick spread of the COVID-19 virus has filled our world with chaos. It’s almost like we’re in a sci-fi apocalypse movie: masks, fear, losses of loved ones, politics, and vaccinations. In America, the virus has almost affected everyone. It consumes our physical lives and forces even the strong and healthy into living a life of precarious caution. But beyond the concerns for physical health and well-being, there is an additional dimension of trouble. Social distancing encouraged us into near-total isolation.

Since the arrival of the pandemic in March 2020, people are struggling with new and existing mental health concerns. The record numbers of lost jobs, parents learning how to become teachers, and essential workers risking their lives each day confronted us with unexpected challenges. These challenges can increase common symptoms of depression including feelings of sadness, confusion, or agitation. In fact, during the pandemic, four out of every 10 adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Hopelessness and despair have increased in 2021. Many people thought that the pandemic problems would be over. Allison Abbot, an author for Pub Med and Google Scholar, wrote that most people will be affected in some small way regarding mental health. This is due to the pandemic entering its second year bringing new variants, renewed lockdowns, millions of deaths, economic strife, and unprecedented curbs on social interaction.


The Pandemic Has Caused Mental and Physical Problems

The pandemic has affected every demographic: age, location, economic status, and education level. Most people are aware of the dangers to older, high-risk individuals, while the popular viewpoint is that healthy young adults are in little to no danger. While this might be true on a mere physical health level, there are other concerns for young adults.  Younger adults appear to be more vulnerable to depression, older adults are developing depressive symptoms, too. Of those who contracted COVID-19, 18% were diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

According to a study compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), whose motto is “Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues,” closures of schools and jobs, which leads not only to isolation but also a loss of income, has led to increased mental and emotional health concerns in young people. While the numbers for all adults in the study who said they were experiencing increased anxiety or depression had increased to roughly 41%, up from an average of 11% in 2019, the number increases to 56% when including only subjects aged 18 to 24. It’s also true that this age group was more likely to report substance use (25% vs.13%) and suicidal thoughts (26% vs.11%). The numbers tell a startling story that young Americans are feeling depressed and facing it alone.


How Americans are Coping with COVID-19 Related Depression

From anxiety and depression to developing sleeplessness and harmful coping behaviors, the pandemic has driven our mental states down. Whether getting less sleeping, drinking more alcohol, or eating more junk food, unhealthy coping behaviors are becoming more common. A research paper published by The Lancet studied a cross-section of over 300,000 individuals from 39 countries. What did they find? During the pandemic, sleep disorders were common and sleep-related problems were associated with higher levels of psychological distress. There is evidence where alcohol consumption grew. A study published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reports that participants who reported experiencing “very much” or “extreme” stress due to COVID-19 also reported consuming significantly more alcohol than participants who did not report these high-stress levels.

The American Psychological Association also reports that opioid and stimulant use is on the rise. According to the CDC, as of June 2020, 13% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance. The reason was for coping with stress or emotions related to COVID-19. Overdoses have also spiked since the onset of the pandemic.

Another study, by the American Society for Nutrition, reports a marked decrease in healthy eating habits, particularly among women, black and Latino study participants, and participants who gained at least five pounds or more since 2018. This was partly due to “crisis shopping”. Crisis shopping is a behavior where consumers fill their shopping carts with fewer fresh vegetables and more snacks and soda. Job losses increased the number of food stamp users. Unfortunately, in a time of crisis, they are more tempted to purchase comfort foods rather than healthy items.

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