16:55 PM

Feeling More Tired, Sad During the Pandemic? It Could Be Depression.



Rates of depression have tripled during COVID-19. Here’s what to look for in your loved ones and how to get help.

By Thomas Vincz, Public Relations Manager

For people struggling with depression, Heather Altman and Kacey Batushansky want them to know that there’s always somewhere they can get help.

As licensed professional counselors, they’ve been spreading this message more than ever during the pandemic. They’ve been seeing more clients whose depression has been triggered by today’s uncertainty, anxiety and lack of control.

Their clients are not alone. A recent study in JAMA Network Open found that the rate of depression tripled during COVID-19 lockdown, up from 8.5 percent before COVID-19 to 27.8 percent during the pandemic.

While many of us have experienced sadness, weariness or “feeling depressed” recently, depression is much more than feeling down or having a bad mood. It is a common but serious mental health condition that affects how you feel, think and act – and even your physical health. According to the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms of depression beyond feeling sad may include:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain not connected to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Altman and Batushansky – both clinical directors at Oaks Integrated Care, a New Jersey-based mental health and addiction treatment provider – point out that the key difference between simply feeling sad and having depression is the duration of the symptoms. “A person must experience symptoms for two weeks to have a diagnosis of clinical depression,” said Batushansky.

To recognize depression in your family or friends, pay attention to:

  • Changes in patterns. If someone used to act one way and now suddenly is behaving differently, this is a clear sign that something is wrong. For example, take note of a friend or family members who used to cope well but is now yelling at work or not sleeping regularly, said Batushansky.
  • The breadth of problems. “When we look at the severity of depression, we consider how many ‘life domains’ – work, home life, school – that the disease disrupts,” said Altman.
  • A person’s age. Teens and adults can show different signs of depression, Batushansky said. Adolescents may be more likely to say they’re in crisis, be irritable, lie, experience physical problems like upset stomachs, or see their grades suffer.

Depression arises from many causes

With a disease as complex as depression, several factors can play a role. Differences in brain chemicals, genetics, personality and environmental factors like exposure to violence or poverty can influence if someone gets depression.

Traumatic events like the pandemic can also trigger depression. Job furloughs and losses can contribute to higher stress and lower self-esteem. In fact, the JAMA study revealed that respondents with lower incomes were 2.4 times more likely than their peers to report depression symptoms.

Treatment for depression comes in many forms

If you start to recognize depression in a loved one, the first step is having a conversation.

“Mental health is something you should always talk about,” said Altman. “If someone has a persistent cough, you don’t wait to ask about their health until they get pneumonia. Mental health shouldn’t wait until it’s a crisis.”

When having these talks, try to normalize and validate a person’s behavior. “For example, you can say ‘I’m concerned you don’t enjoy playing football like you used to.’ Or, ‘I’m concerned you’ve been sleeping more than normal,” said Batushansky.

Professional help is often needed to treat depression. According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression is among the most treatable of mental health conditions, with 80 to 90 percent of people responding well to treatment.

Treatment usually falls into two categories:

  • Psychotherapy (also called “talk therapy”)
  • Medications that can improve how the brain uses certain chemicals that control mood or stress

At Oaks Integrated Care, treatment for depression ranges from individual and group therapies to more intensive programs that meet daily. They also offer case management services, which includes connecting clients with psychiatrists who can prescribe medications and coordinating their care so they can attend their therapy appointments.

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey is committed to helping people with depression get the mental health support they need. Find a behavioral health professional or check out our guide to accessing mental health resources during the pandemic.