All of us have felt the fear and stress brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Those who have struggled and battled with COVID-19 have been particularly affected due to its lingering health problems. This is despite recovering from the acute phase of the disease. Fatigue and muscle weakness were the most commonly reported symptoms, but many patients also deal with anxiety or depression.
A study published in The Lancet Psychiatry Journal suggested that 1 in 5 COVID survivors developed a mental issue within the first three months of diagnosis. Another study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health also found out that almost half of the people who tested positive for COVID-19 reported symptoms of depression.
So, is depression a symptom of COVID? Why do survivors long after recovery deal with post-COVID depression? Continue reading as we explore the reasons for this and how therapy and other positive lifestyle habits can help you fight depression.
If you’re or someone in your family or community may be at risk for suicide, contact your healthcare provider, local mental health authority, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889).
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The mental health effects of having COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has made us more anxious and pessimistic than we used to be. Its mental health effects are even more significant for those who have been diagnosed with the virus, including those who have recovered. A new study also suggests that some COVID-19 patients who suffer from lingering symptoms are at a greater risk for depression.
According to previous research from the University of Oxford, those who have had COVID-19 are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health issue than those dealing with other conditions during the pandemic. Patients who are coping with COVID-19, for instance, were twice as likely to develop a mental health disorder than those who had the flu.
It has also been suggested that simply being diagnosed with a new, potentially life-threatening disease (like COVID-19) is enough to trigger stress and anxiety. Patients who tested positive, furthermore, also need to isolate, which can lead to anxiety and depression. The experience can be traumatic for both the patients and their loved ones due to its potential severity and uncertainties regarding its treatment.
Can COVID-19 cause depression?
We are all familiar with the common symptoms of coronavirus disease: fever, cough, tiredness, and loss of taste or smell. But what about its mental health symptoms? Is depression a symptom of COVID-19? There is, according to studies, some indication that there may be a link between COVID-19 and the symptoms of depression.
One study suggested that while fighting the virus, the body’s immune system could be indirectly injuring the brain cells. Another study, meanwhile, suggested that COVID creates blood clots indirectly, which can cause brain damage. These reported effects on the brain only increase the risk of having mental health challenges and conditions.
It has also been known for a long time that there is an association between viral infections and mental health issues. Increased inflammation in the body (which can be caused by a virus) is also linked to depression. This is why it is not uncommon for people diagnosed with COVID-19 to develop a mental health condition. A study suggested that these symptoms seem to linger six months after recovery.
So, can COVID cause depression? The symptoms of COVID-19 also appear to be associated with the common symptoms of depression. The loss of smell and taste, according to a 2020 study, was linked to anxiety and depressive symptoms. Another study published this year also found out that patients who reported COVID-induced headaches were at a higher risk for depressive symptoms.
What can help with post-COVID depression
One popular myth about depression is that you can simply “snap out of it”. Depression, however, is a mood disorder that depletes your hope, drive, and energy. This is why you’ll find it challenging to make the necessary changes that will make you feel better. It can also be exhausting to just think about the things you are supposed to do like connecting with loved ones, exercising, or eating a balanced meal.
Whether or not you or a loved one developed depression after COVID, do take note that the most difficult things to do are the ones that help the most. It can be a real struggle at first, so it is best to start small and build your way up.
Here are a few things that can help:
Reach out for support
With depression, you may feel exhausted to talk or ashamed of your situation. Don’t listen to that voice or feeling. Reaching out to trusted friends and loved ones can make a difference in your mood or emotions. Look for support to those who are good listeners and can listen compassionately without judging you.
Working out can seem like a daunting task when you’re depressed. Exercise, however, can help fight depression and relieve depressive symptoms. You can get the most benefit by aiming for at least 30 minutes of physical activity. You can also start small or divide the time if you can’t exercise for a full 30 minutes.
Do things you enjoy
Try to push yourself to do the things that make you feel good. You might be surprised at how much difference it will make when you go out and have fun. You can do so by going back to an old hobby or picking up a new one, going hiking, or exploring your creative side through art, music, or writing.
Mind your diet
Your food choices can directly impact the way you feel. Foods that can negatively affect your mood include trans-fat, alcohol, caffeine, and those that are heavily processed and filled with chemical preservatives or hormones. Make sure to avoid skipping meals and consume more fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens.
Get little doses of sunlight
A moderate amount of sun exposure can help your body create essential vitamins and improve certain health conditions. Sunlight boosts your serotonin levels, which helps improve your mood and makes you feel more focused or calmer.
Challenge negative thoughts
Cognitive distortions (pessimistic and irrational thoughts) are inaccurate and not realistic. You can challenge these thoughts by looking at the situation from another angle. You can also tell yourself positive and healthy messages to help let go of those negative thoughts.
Some positive affirmations for depression include:
- I am strong and confident.
- I deserve to be happy.
- I am grateful for everything I have in my life.
- I can choose how to react to situations.
- I believe in myself.
Get professional help for depression
If you’re experiencing depression, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective evidence-based options for treating depression. It is a type of talk therapy that helps you identify and manage negative behavior and thought patterns that contribute to depression.
Here are the other ways therapy or CBT can be helpful:
- Identify negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones
- Change unhelpful and inaccurate beliefs
- Modify or change behavior that contributes to depression or make it worse
- Schedule pleasant activities (setting aside time for healthy activities you love and enjoy)
How to help and what to say to someone who is depressed
If a loved one is battling depression, learning more about the disorder can help. The same is also true for practicing empathy and compassion. Take note that you don’t have to completely understand what they are going through. You just have to recognize that it is a difficult experience.
Remind yourself that it is not your job to fix them. You just have to let them know that you care.
Here are some helpful things you can say to someone who is depressed:
- Your feelings are valid – Encourage them to share and talk about their emotions.
- I care, even though I don’t fully understand what you’re going through – Offer love and compassion, instead of pretending that you understand their situation.
- You matter to me – Depression can cause hopelessness and embarrassment. Remind them that they are loved and important.
- Is there anything I can do to help? – Ask them what you can do to help. Be specific with what you could do like helping them with grocery shopping, offering to take walks together, or helping around the house.
Getting help or reaching out is not a sign of weakness. If you or a loved one developed post-COVID depression, don’t hesitate to take therapy. You can also choose to get support at the comfort of your own home or wherever you are through online therapy platforms like Calmerry. You can learn more about it here.