Experts say that social distancing is the most effective way to slow the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19. But while self-isolation is beneficial for mitigating pandemics, it can worsen feelings of melancholy and loneliness, triggering mild, situational depression in some people, and worsening major clinical depression in others.
Situational depression is short-term and brought on by difficulty adjusting to life changes (for example, divorce, sickness, or a pandemic). Major depression and bipolar depression are serious conditions that requires behavioral therapy and often prescribed medication. Especially during these uncertain times, those diagnosed with clinical depression are at higher risk for self-harm, so it’s particularly important for them to continue to follow their specific treatment plan as outlined by their doctor or therapist.
Along with this, there are additional ways to help manage depression, even while social distancing. “One of the things that’s most important in treating depression is keeping active and doing things you value in order to find joy from within,” says Henry Ford Health psychologist Philip Lanzisera, Ph.D. “So this situation with coronavirus that’s making us stay at home can be a problem for those who suffer from depression.”
Here, he shares a few ways to cope.
- Keep in contact with loved ones. If you live with family members, make sure to engage with them. Play games, cook a meal together. If you live alone, be diligent in calling or FaceTiming relatives and friends, and schedule daily check-ins. “Keeping in contact with them is terribly important,” says Dr. Lanzisera. “You can’t afford to let yourself be isolated.”
- Engage in activities that bring you joy. “There are things at home you can do that are meaningful, valuable and enjoyable. Take walks outdoors, play an instrument, binge-watch your favorite shows,” says Dr. Lanzisera. If you’re by yourself, have a friend or relative call you to ensure you’ve done some of these activities, so that you’re held accountable, he says.
- Exercise. While you can’t go to the gym, you can work out inside the comfort of your own home. (Or run or jog outdoors while keeping a safe distance from others.) Exercise raises endorphins, the brain chemicals that make us happy.
- Redirect negative thoughts into positive actions. “When you see yourself becoming pessimistic and thinking of worst-case scenarios, remind yourself that it’s an unhealthy way to think, and redirect your thoughts by being active,” says Dr. Lanzisera. “The best thing you can do if you’re feeling really depressed is write a list of all the things that make you feel better and then do the ones that you’re able to do right now.” This is a cognitive therapy skill, which was designed to help people who tend to be impulsive.
- Remind yourself this won't last forever. Although it might seem like there’s no end point in sight, the reality is that this will eventually get better. “While right now it might seem like we’re stuck inside the house for a long time, it’s not forever. The point is that it will eventually get better,” says Dr. Lanzisera. “That’s what you need to focus on. And remind yourself of reasons for living.”
- Check social media selectively. Continuously scrolling for COVID-19 updates is a surefire way to go into a downward spiral. “Don’t read the news all day, but if social media is how you keep up with friends and family, or see pictures of your grandkids, then by all means, continue to do that,” says Dr. Lanzisera.
- Talk to your doctor. Last but not least—but perhaps most importantly—talk to your primary care physician (PCP), therapist, or psychiatrist, especially if the above approaches aren’t working and you’re unable to sleep, get out of bed, eat, shower, or you’re having thoughts of self-harm or suicide. “If you are having mild depressive symptoms, you can manage them yourself with your friends or family. But if they can’t get you to participate in activities, and you’re unable to do the things you used to love, then it’s time to talk to the doctor. And we’ll do something about it,” says Dr. Lanzisera.
If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
For up-to-date information about Henry Ford Health’s response to the coronavirus, visit henryford.com/coronavirus.
Dr. Philip J. Lanzisera is a psychologist who specializes in treating patients with anxiety and depression, trauma-related disorders and pain-related disorders. He sees patients at Henry Ford locations in Detroit, Clinton Township and Troy.