Covid-19 and mental health: when should you worry?


Jessi Rich, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Covid-19 may be known for its attacks on the upper respiratory system, but there’s another part of the body it’s attacking: our minds.


According to Healthline, the proportion of Americans experiencing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety has risen significantly since the pandemic’s onset. For instance, in 2006, 37 percent of the U.S. population showed levels of depression (encompassing mild, moderate, and severe depression), whereas in April of this year, that number jumped to 49 percent.


Some are more at risk for sinking into a depressive episode than others. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites older people, children and teens, racial and ethnic minorities, frontline health workers, and people who live alone or in rural areas as especially susceptible. 


The tricky part about mental illness amidst a global pandemic is that it’s difficult to diagnose, because to some extent, everyone is a little worried right now. So how do you distinguish between what’s a normal amount of worrying and what isn’t?


Healthline explains the prime symptoms of depression as “…a depressed mood; feeling sad, empty, or hopeless; having difficulty with day-to-day tasks; increased fatigue; and sleep difficulties.” However, as Healthline’s Dr. Timothy Legg says, a lot of these symptoms are easy to “explain away.” 


“I don’t have anywhere to go, so may as well sleep a bit longer,” you might think, or: “I haven’t been as active recently, so I don’t really need to eat that much.”


To illustrate this point, allow me to speak briefly from personal experience. March 13, 2020 was the last day I set foot on Milton’s campus, a sudden abbreviation to my junior year long before I was ready for it to end. Nevertheless, I wasn’t worried; it wasn’t the end of the world. All I had to do was stay inside for a few weeks, and by summertime, surely, the world would be back up and running again.

Enter April 2020. The U.S. coronavirus cases skyrocketed; at least 42 states issued curfews and strict stay-at-home orders. Watching the daily news became more like watching a horror movie as the numbers ticked up and up, and I found myself withdrawing, shutting myself behind my bedroom door and staring with glazed eyes at a computer screen or a book for hours at a time–anything to ignore the difficult reality unfolding around me. 


When the school year officially ended, it only got worse. Now, with this yawning stretch of free time and nothing to fill it with, the hopelessness slowly bore down on me. I slept for nearly half the day, staying up until close to three in the morning and throwing my normal sleep schedule way out of line. The thought of even going to the grocery store with my parents or for a walk in the neighborhood terrified me like it never had before. 


There were just too many unknowns. Even wearing a mask, gloves, and utilizing copious amounts of hand sanitizer, I could still catch the virus, which, as someone with asthma, there was no guarantee I’d survive. So it was just better to never go outside at all.


As if the pandemic spiraling rapidly out of control wasn’t enough, the country was similarly approaching a time of unprecedented racial turmoil. Demonstrations after the wrongful deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor arose internationally, the biggest protests since the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. 


On the flip side, tensions rose between those demanding justice and those claiming it had already been rightfully served. Twitter wars raged; everyday a different video of a black person being hassled by the police went viral. It seemed to me that the world was coming apart at the seams like an overworn coat. There was nowhere to turn.


I didn’t even realize just how far I’d let my mental health slip until my parents confronted me about it. It was an awkward process, but with their help I finally ventured outside again. I used exercise and creative writing as a way of staving off my dim moods. This isn’t to say they stopped coming entirely, but it was a few hours out of the week rather than every single day.


If you are having a similar experience, the important thing to know is that you’re not alone. These are bizarre times, and it’s hitting everyone differently. There is absolutely no shame if you’re struggling more than you may have anticipated. 


As for coping with your stress, the CDC recommends allowing yourself time to unwind or meditate, finding a source of exercise that’s fun for you, and talking to others about how you feel. Take breaks from social media or other news sources, and should you need it, seek out online therapy services. Several therapy providers such as BetterHelp and Talkspace can help you cope.


It might feel like there’s no end in sight, but just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.


By: Jessi Rich 

Images: Healthline, Texas Public Radio