The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of people worldwide in many ways. From lockdowns and social distancing to the loss of loved ones, the pandemic has caused significant stress and anxiety for many individuals. One of the less talked about effects of the pandemic is post-COVID depression.
Post-COVID depression is a type of depression that occurs after recovering from COVID-19. It is also referred to as post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC) or long COVID. Long COVID is a term used to describe the symptoms that persist for weeks, months or even years after the person has recovered from COVID-19.
The symptoms of post-COVID depression can vary, but may include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and changes in appetite. These symptoms can persist for weeks or months after the person has recovered from COVID-19. In some cases, post-COVID depression can be severe and require treatment. LocalHood volunteer Saravanan and a guest writer, a clinical psychologist by profession, look into the factors that lead to depression and how one can seek help when facing such situations.
There are several factors that can contribute to post-COVID depression. The stress and anxiety of having COVID-19 can lead to depression. Additionally, the physical symptoms of COVID-19, such as fatigue and difficulty breathing, can also contribute to depression. The isolation and social distancing measures that were put in place during the pandemic have also contributed to feelings of loneliness and depression.
The covid situation in Hong Kong and around the world created a strong feeling of helplessness and lack of control. Besides the more obvious issues such as the fear of becoming ill or losing a loved one, the accumulation of the loss of the small things significantly erodes daily wellbeing. Things that were taken for granted before, such as hopping on a flight for a spontaneous weekend getaway, gathering with friends, going to a restaurant for dinner, or even being allowed to leave the building, were all either impossible or illegal, seemingly overnight. The looming threat of what other freedoms could be taken at any point created a constant sense of anxiety. The helplessness and lack of choices create a feeling of futility that can also contribute to depression. Feeling trapped and limited impacts the mood in a negative way. In addition, there was the constant stress of being fined or even arrested for doing something “wrong” or even the fear that others would turn you in. This created substantial tension on both the individual and societal level.
When daily routines are so constantly disrupted and there is a chronic experience of lack of control, it is easy to feel lost, confused and even question the purpose of life. For some, the situation was even more extreme when it was combined with loss of jobs, income, or even the ability to provide for one’s basic needs. Even if people were not so directly impacted, knowing that this was happening to others in society was also a very heavy emotional burden to carry. Going out on the streets and seeing so many businesses shuttered and the loss of the usual energy of society can also contribute to hopelessness and fear.
Even after things have relatively returned to normal in society with the pandemic largely under control, the individual does not bounce back so easily. The chronic nature of the covid restrictions that kept changing and creating so many difficulties in everyday life, can create a trauma in the brain. Even if the restrictions can be lifted overnight, the human brain does not bounce back to pre-covid functioning overnight. The brain is still processing the threat of covid itself and the helplessness of living under the covid restrictions. There is also grief and loss over not just friends and family who might have passed away due to covid, but the experiences and opportunities that were lost during that time. For families with children going through key developmental stages, there is also a sense of vicarious loss for what their children did not receive in terms of opportunities and life experiences, including education and socialization. Even though the signs of normalcy are outwardly returning in society, it is important to take note of the internal experience and recognize that healing and recovery take time.
It is important for individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 to seek help if they are experiencing symptoms of post-COVID depression. Treatment may include therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in treating depression. CBT helps individuals identify negative thought patterns and replace them with positive ones. Therapy is also helpful to receive validation for what the individual is experiencing and finding ways to reframe the perspective to be more balanced. When we are depressed, the way of thinking is skewed towards a negative view of self, others and the future. Sometimes we need help from a professional to get our thoughts into a healthier pattern so that we can live a more fulfilled and productive life.
In addition to seeking professional help, there are several things individuals can do to manage their symptoms of post-COVID depression. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep can all help improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression. Staying connected with friends and family through phone calls or video chats can also help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Connection to others is vital for both emotional and physical health. No matter what emotional state we are in, it is always good to practice good emotional hygiene. We have been trained to practice good physical hygiene such that we usually brush our teeth and daily and keep our bodies clean and try to protect our bodies from germs. Good emotional hygiene means checking in on a daily basis with our emotional state. We need to care for the emotional hurts and pains, and be aware of negative thought patterns or self-talk that is destructive. We should also be conscious of building in healthy emotional habits.
In conclusion, post-COVID depression is a real and serious condition that can affect individuals who have recovered from COVID-19. It is important for individuals who are experiencing symptoms of post-COVID depression to seek help from a mental health professional. With the right treatment and support, individuals can manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
If you are concerned that someone you know is experiencing depressed mood, do not be afraid to raise your concerns with them. Sometimes the very nature of being depressed is that people do not have good self awareness and cannot accurately assess their own wellbeing. If you show concern to them, that might give them some insight or offer them an avenue of help that they were too demoralized to be able to ask for for themselves.
If they want to share their emotions or problems with you, they are usually not looking for a solution. The most important thing is to validate the experience – listen to what they are saying and show empathy without trying to solve the problem. You can also try to be a part of the solution – go out for activities together and give them a relational experience. Sometimes the hard times are like riding out a wave. If we just accept it as a hard time, we will get to the end of it more quickly. When we fight the wave, we potentially make it worse by getting rolled around on the bottom of the ocean floor. Everyone experiences hard times. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to acknowledge emotional suffering and to ask for help. Sharing our experiences – both the highs and the lows – is beneficial for our own health and also gives others permission to share their own feelings.
Always refer to a mental health professional if you feel that the problem is more than you are able to manage on your own.