Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
How To Recognize Symptoms of Depression: COVID Edition
Published Jul 22nd, 2020 & updated on May 22nd, 2021
We kicked off 2020 with a ruthless virus and by March, the whole world was in quarantine. As we’re writing to you now, it’s the middle of July and the COVID-19 pandemic is still in full swing. Everyone is coping the best way they know how…and if you’ve been noticing your mental health take a toll, know that you’re not alone. So in order for us to watch out for ourselves and others, we’ve put together a list of symptoms of depression, especially as they may show up in a socially distanced world.
Regardless of where you are in the world when you read this, the reality is that our reality has changed. We will continue to live in a “socially distanced” world for the next year (maybe longer?) and that will have an impact on our mental health.
What do we mean by a socially distanced world? A world where there are at least 6 feet between you and another human being. One where face masks are worn to protect each other and where hugs between family members or romantic partners are the only ones allowed.
A world where our need and want for connection and physical embrace must be balanced with a serious risk to our health.
Our in-house mental health professional, Natalie Asayag MSW LCSW, reminds us that “human connection is necessary to our survival.”
(quick side note: does anyone remember what it was like to high five?? we heckin’ miss those)
So what happens to our mental health when that human connection is no longer there?
The most obvious truth? We get lonely.
The less obvious truth? We may experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, and a number of other mental health issues.
We reached out to Natalie (who has adjusted her practice to work virtually with clients) and asked a few questions on the matter. Below you’ll find her answers and her professional recommendations!
1. What are symptoms of depression that can particularly crop up when social distancing?
Symptoms of depression during social distancing can show up in a few different ways. Pay attention to things like lack of motivation, fatigue, trouble sleeping, as well as a drop in seeking support or connection (further self-isolating).
Another important symptom to look for is a loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities, and any accompanying irritability, negative thoughts, or a loud inner critic. Equally important to keep an eye out for is an uptick in restriction or binge behaviours because these may also crop up during social distancing.
Because depression is a complicated illness, there are other signs of depression to consider. If at any point you feel these warning symptoms worsen or develop more, it may be time to reach out to a mental health professional.
2. How can you recognize these symptoms in yourself and others?
Ask yourself if you’ve been noticing your friend reaching out less or responding less. Have they been ignoring your (hilarious) memes? Are they starting to let your texts sit without a response for a long time? Skipping planned phone calls? On the other side, notice if you have done the same.
Recognize if you or your friend have been engaging in escapism (like video games, or TV). Every once in a while we all find that one TV show that we just HAVE to watch in one sitting because it’s soooooo good. But escapism may be a symptom of depression if you notice you’ve been doing it more than usual. Netflix shouldn’t be taking up a large portion of your day every day.
A few more things to recognize as potential symptoms are a lack of motivation to do [school] work, not engaging in usual activities (think cleaning, making meals, showering, etc.), and finding less pleasure in previously pleasurable activities. If you feel like it takes more energy to start or follow through with a task, that may also be a warning sign. Because irritability can be a symptom of depression, lashing out or being “short” with friends and loved ones may also be a sign.
3. How can loneliness from the pandemic cause depression or depressive episodes?
Human connection is necessary to our survival. Without social connections, we begin to feel empty and lose sight of life’s purpose, as loneliness informs our inner world of feelings and thoughts.
This can quite quickly lead to feelings of depression, considering various factors, such as frequency of connection, quality of friendships, ability to connect beyond surface conversation and the length of time without quality interactions.
4. What are some ways to combat feelings of loneliness, especially if you are far from friends and family?
Ideally, connect via video so you can see the person’s facial expressions and read their non-verbals. If this isn’t your preference, certainly audio calls are the next best thing. Set a time each day or week to connect with specific people in your life.
Another option is to join one of the many free, live collective experiences offered online: meditations, yoga, workouts, lectures, FB support groups, online book clubs. Send handwritten letters or cards to friends — let’s bring back the pen pal experience. Connect with others who are willing to sit with your emotions — it’s powerful to be able to share your feelings and feel “heard” and validated.
5. What are some other ways people with depression can cope while they’re self-isolating?
It’s a good idea to schedule daily or weekly calls with friends and family and conduct reciprocal daily check-ins with each other. You can also virtually watch a movie with a friend or start an online game together! Or get outside and go on a social distancing walk with your friends (don’t forget your mask). Be brave in your vulnerability and ask for support when you need it.
Journaling is a great way to allow yourself to feel your feelings, and even get a little creative. Create a comfortable and warm space and explore the thoughts and feelings whirling around inside you. The physical and mental health benefits of journaling are countless.
As you try to replicate some normalcy, build a loose schedule for yourself and lower your expectations of yourself.
Some other creative activities you can engage in are cooking, baking, sketching, painting, photography, poetry, writing, and reading. Build a playlist for different moods, listen to podcasts, meet with a therapist. Many senior care homes are looking for pen pals right now so grab a pen and write a letter to them! Come up with a detailed escape plan of how you’re going to break them out of the senior home and take them on a rad adventure. Embrace your creativity and you’ll make their day, and your day.
So there you have it! A few ways to recognize symptoms of depression and a few ways to cope with them as they crop up. It’s more important now than ever to take care of each other as we try to fight this ruthless virus.
Let’s show extra love, be super mindful in our communication, and purposeful in our interactions.
We got this, fam.