To suffer from depression is a significant challenge for anyone at the best of times. However, an already depressed person finding themselves in an environment such as the one determined by the COVID-19 pandemic will be at increased risk of the symptoms associated with this potentially life-threatening condition. In a sense depression is itself a form of lockdown.
It is important for people who are prone to depression to deal proactively with their situation in order to avoid sinking into a kind of paralysis. Given that people with depression tend to experience feelings of hopelessness, the news relating to COVID-19 can increase their despondency. Uncertainty about the future, whether from an individual, family, community or societal perspective will take its toll on morale. The seemingly endless stream of negative news and information tends only to confirm worst feelings. Enforced isolation and social disconnection will certainly not help matters. Loss in a variety of forms is a factor, whether of social freedom, interests, opportunities, work or of loved ones, whether through distance or death.
There are a number steps that can be taken to prevent the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 from lowering mood even further. It is important to structure the day to provide routine while including a degree of variety. It is not helpful to succumb to drift, so getting up and getting going is even more critical during lockdown. Making plans for the following day and keeping to them will usually help, as will ensuring regularity in times of going to bed and rising. Fitting in exercise, vigorous enough to raise the heart beat and breathing rate, will make a positive difference, not only to physical fitness but also to mood and mental acuity. There are now many examples of people devising imaginative ways to exercise in limited space as a result of lockdown. Eating healthily, including not overdoing consumption, will play a part, with particular care being taken to keep intake of any junk food to a minimum. Hydration is vital, so drinking water regularly is a must. Alcohol is to be avoided because, while it may provide relief of uncomfortable feelings and temporarily lift mood, it will in the end lead to a depressing of mood and make it more difficult to enjoy restorative sleep. It also dehydrates.
While isolated — never a good situation for someone who is depressed — it is essential to maintain frequent connection to others in some way. Fortunately, modern electronic media provide a range of opportunities for both individual connection and the convening of groups, of different kinds. Talking to someone else as openly as possibly during times of depression is therapeutic in itself. Given the additional toll that the COVID-19 crisis may well take on some people’s mood, it is as well for them to have readily to hand phone numbers of helplines that will provide support in times of acute crisis. It may also prove beneficial to try painting, colouring or drawing if a person has difficulty articulating feelings, before sharing these with others as far as practically possible. It has long been recognised that most depressions are episodic, meaning that they generally improve with the passage of time. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the precise trajectory of COVID-19 pandemic, it will end eventually. In the meantime, the steps outlined above will go some way to helping prevent or alleviate the worst effects of the additional pressure of lockdown on mood.