If you’ve felt down recently, you’re not alone: About 40% of Washingtonians reported symptoms of depression or anxiety this summer. COVID-19 has come at a great cost to human lives, the economy and now, as research suggests, our mental health and well-being.
We can maintain physical resilience and reduce the risk of catching COVID-19 by wearing masks, using hand sanitizer and practicing social distance, but when it comes to our mental health, we are universally exposed. Whether we’re personally familiar with anxiety and depression or not, no one is completely immune to the mounting weight of today’s uncertainties.
So how can we protect and maintain mental resilience – in ourselves and others – during a time when unemployment, social issues and death rates dominate our news cycles, conversations and thoughts?
Friends can help. Family can help. And there are professionals a phone call away who can help. Foremost, though, we can help ourselves by learning to build resilience. Rather than avoiding unpleasant situations, it helps us face challenges and adapt, overcome and, most importantly, move on. It starts by recognizing the triggers.
For some of us, it’s figuring out how to balance work and remote schooling for our kids. For others, it’s grieving loss of normalcy and “things to do,” or even the loss of a loved one. For many, it’s a combination of today’s pressures atop a preexisting mental health condition.
As humans, we often refrain from sharing our thoughts and feelings for fear of judgment or being seen as a burden. Consequently, this can cause people to further isolate rather than get support. Our mental health is important, and we need to find ways of having these tough conversations and navigate challenges now more than ever.
COVID-19 has led to increased social isolation, stress, worry and uncertainty, all of which can increase risk of depression and anxiety. For some, this means a change in energy levels or decreased motivation to carry out everyday activities, including those previously enjoyed.
For others, it might be changes in sleep or appetite.
These symptoms can be difficult to notice when we find ourselves having to social distance and spend more time away from others. Many individuals who are currently taking medications to manage their mood might still experience highs and lows.
If left untreated, episodes of depression or mania can get worse and become more difficult to manage and treat. COVID-19 has challenged many individuals’ ability to practice self-care and cope with stress and anxiety, which make symptoms even worse.
Similarly, individuals who were previously medicated for depression who have been able to manage their symptoms without medications might find themselves in need of treatment. You might already be familiar with symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. It is important to watch for these and seek help.
In any situation, thoughts or statements about self-harm, even when said jokingly, should be addressed immediately. Remember, it’s not on you to have all the answers, nor do you have to go through this alone.
To address concerns with someone, set a dedicated time without distractions and let the person share as much or as little as they want. Keep questions open-ended and avoid phrases like “but you always seem happy” or “everyone is down these days” or “at least you have .” Don’t try to diagnose. Instead, listen and offer to help seek professional support.
While we’re all experiencing today’s uncertainties, we all feel the weight of them differently. Building resilience is a process, but the more we know about mental health and illness and how to seek care, the better we can support ourselves, and others, along the way.
Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center. His column appears biweekly in The Spokesman-Review.
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