In the very beginning of August, 2021 I contracted COVID-19. Initially I was in denial because I had been fully vaccinated and wore a mask when I went out into public, but after I got tested twice and both tests came back positive, I had to succumb to the fact that I indeed had COVID-19. Not to mention by then I was feeling like pretty sick. I was exhausted, had no appetite, my body ached and I got extremely fatigued just walking from one room to the next. Perhaps though, the strangest and most mysterious symptom I felt was depression.
At first I wasn’t sure why I was feeling depressed. I wasn’t that upset over having COVID-19 and isolating myself didn’t really bother me because I still had family in the house so I wasn’t exactly totally alone. Still, as I laid around trying to feel better, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was feeling increasingly depressed.
As a mental health counselor, of course I tried to process why I was feeling down. I ran through everything I could think of and while I had areas in my life that needed improvement, there was nothing really making me that sad or stressed. Then I started to wonder if it was possible that COVID-19 was causing my depression and I started doing some research.
A lot of people during this pandemic have had their mental health statuses negatively impacted for a variety of reasons. Reports of depression and anxiety have increased during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic numbers based on research. Some people became depressed or anxious due to social-distancing, fear of contracting COVID-19 or seeing their family members or friends become sick and some even dying from the illness. I understood that, but what I was more concerned with was if having COVID-19 itself made a person more likely to become depressed.
What I learned is that COVID-19 is an illness that can actually infect the brain and increase a persons chances of displaying psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia or even dementia. One study, Neurologic Manifestation of Hospitalized Patients With Coronavirus Disease 2019 in Wuhan, China written by Ling Mao, Huiiuan Jin, Mengdie Wang; et al. showed that one-third of patients with COVID-19 developed neurologic problems. So while depression can be caused by the pandemic itself, it appears that it can also be caused by the infection alone.
Another interesting, but related fact is that I noticed my blood sugar, which normally is in the normal range, was running a lot high during and even for a couple of weeks after I had COVID-19. Again, I did research and learned that it wasn’t uncommon for relatively healthy people who had battled COVID-19, to temporarily have higher than normal blood sugars. I know from past research that high blood sugar can also increase a persons risk of having depression. COVID-19, as I was finding out, is a very complex illness affecting people in ways we may not even realize.
Here are some mental health statistics from pushcare.com when it comes to Covid-19:
- 56.2% of young adults (18-24 years old) report symptoms of anxiety or depression compared to 29.3% of adults over the age of 65 years.
- 53.4% of adults in households that have suffered a job loss due to COVID-19 reported symptoms compared to 31.8% of adults in households without job loss.
- 56% of adults in households that earn less than $40k per year report a negative impact on their mental health status compared to 48% of adults in households that earn more than $90k per year.
- 48% of non-Hispanic Black adults reported symptoms compared to 46.3% of Hispanic or Latino adults, 40.9% of non-Hispanic White adults, and 33.1% of non-Hispanic Asian adults.
- 42% of essential workers reported symptoms of depression or anxiety compared to 30% of nonessential workers.
Coping With COVID Depression
Self-care is the best way to manage COVID-19 Depression. Eating healthy and trying to exercise when you can (even if it’s just a short walk if you’re still having symptoms such as fatigue or shortness of breath) can start to alleviate the symptoms. I started with a slow paced walk around my block in order to just get my body moving and get some fresh air. Try to stay connected with friends even if it’s through social media or texts.
Try to find time to enjoy life and if nothing seems to be working, seek mental health help.
I personally had to get back to my regular routine to start feeling better. Going back to work, while initially exhausting, helped me recover from COVID-19 depression faster. Going back to the gym and training jiu-jitsu also helped, just don’t push yourself too fast too hard. Remember, you’re in recovery and recovery takes time.