How to understand depression during the COVID-19 pandemic — and what you can do


If you or someone you know is feeling more than some sadness associated with the pandemic we are living through, help is available. You can Text HELLO to 741741 to talk to a crisis counselor who can provide support and information.

Feeling sad and exhausted? Don’t feel like getting out of bed? You are not alone. COVID-19 is making life different if not difficult for all of us. The truth is that we are creatures of habits, no matter how spontaneous we may believe ourselves to be or how disorganized we may appear. 

Most people needed the routines, schedules, and plans that framed their life. Then came COVID-19. What we thought we could endure for a short time ended up being for a longer time that has not only disrupted the patterns of our lives but often has had a major financial impact on us. As a result, there are more people who feel overwhelmed and anxious. 

Each new headline only seems to amplify the uncertainty experienced and increase feelings of sadness. Much has been written about depression and COVID-19. But the fact is that feeling some sadness is a response that signals mental wellness

Given all the personal upheavals, it is reasonable to wake-up on an occasional morning and feel sad. The moment of concern is when there comes a point where the sadness seems to become more pervasive. That is when we need to pause and consider what we are experiencing to try to better understand our feelings. 

To acknowledge our feelings is tough as the cultural message is that feelings are not facts. We are told, “It’s nothing, it’s just in your head.” We forget that being in your head is real. If it is in your head, you need to address those feelings because they are important clues that you need to understand.

Feelings are that part of our brain responding to what is around us. In our objective society feelings are often set aside because they are very subjective. Yet it is that very subjectivity that makes them valuable. Feelings are feedback provided by our environment, our brain, and our experiences. The tendency, however, is to ignore feelings — especially negative feelings. 

The challenge is to recognize when what you are experiencing is not the sadness that is part of life but more of an oppressive weight that seems to be dragging you down further and further. What do you do if the sadness lasts more than just a few days? What if the feelings of sadness are so palpable that they become incapacitating and do not go away? 

Think of how you take care of your physical health. If you had a fever that lasted a few days, you would take some over-the-counter medication to make it go away. If the fever lasted a few more days, you may consult with your go-to health sources. If it lasted for more than a week you would see a health care provider. We know if someone has prediabetes there are steps they can take to prevent getting diabetes. We applaud when people take steps to prevent diabetes. When it comes to mental health the path to getting a diagnosis or actively engaging in treatment has many more stumbling blocks. 

While seeing a health care professional is acceptable; seeing a mental health professional is still cloaked with a lot of stigma. There may be celebrities that now discuss their experience with recognizing their mental health needs but for too many, seeking help for mental health issues is seen as a sign of weakness or personal failure. We need to change that mindset, because an early intervention does make a difference. 

There is no diagnosis of predepression; yet there are steps that we know that people can take to prevent or ameliorate their feelings of sadness from cascading into depression. Once a person is diagnosed with depression there are a variety of interventions and treatment options to consider. The work is to find the combination of interventions that works best for the person. 

When you are feeling sad for an extended period of time remember that there are steps and treatments to make your life better. Suffering should not be a way of life for you or for anyone.

Jane L. Delgado, PhD, MS, is the author of the “Buena Salud Guide— Understanding Depression and Enjoying Life,” Buena Salud Press, 2020 and President and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health.