Depression Amidst Pandemic-Insight

-Pratushya Pachal, Student of Psychology (B.A.)

A cluster of acute respiratory illness with unknown causes, has occurred in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China since December 2019 (Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, 2020, Parles et al.,2020, Wang et al., 2020). Officially designated as the novel coronavirus or Covid-19 by the World Health Organization the virus became internationally sporadic with the onset of 2020 and spread from Wuhan to almost 193 countries. By March 30th 2020, over 720,000 confirmed cases and 33,000 deaths attributable to this virus have been reported.

The World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 as Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) forcing the Government all over the world to take strict decisions and to announce a complete lockdown. Thus, pushing all the people to stay in strict quarantine. After being confirmed that this virus transfers from human to human the practice of social distancing came into existence creating a different definition of untouchables in the year 2020 along with proper hygiene rules . Thus, the Covid-19 not only brought a deadly pandemic but also created a halt in all normal lifestyles, disturbing the mental wellbeing of people all over the world.


While the entire humanity was pushed back with this prolonged pandemic , the persistent uncertainties to combating deadly disease are emanating huge setbacks all across the world. Each day with the rising death toll and the number of people who are being affected by this virus is creating a panic among common people. People are unable to cope with this scenario and are unable to maintain a stability for their mental health. What began as social distancing has turned into isolation that for many is becoming extended and extreme. While one group is isolated and confined within the four walls and are working from home, the other group is working 24×7 outside their comfort zone to create a better tomorrow for us. Our doctors are working day and night staying away from their families and on the other hand, the young adults, specifically those in college, have experienced a variety of emotions since it began. With the sudden cancellation of on-campus courses and with the start of 100% virtual education, it’s safe to say these experiences have been unsettling and taken a toll on student’s mental health. The sudden social withdrawal and complete “shelter-in-place” is also creating a sense of loneliness among the youths.

A downfall of the economy is creating a panic among the businessmen and the uncertainty of getting food the next day is creating a fear among people below the poverty line. The worry, the loss of control, frustration and certainly the isolation we are experiencing is unhealthy at best , devastating at worst. People are isolated and can only meet virtually. Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD), Depressive disorders are becoming common among people, with sleep disturbances, appetite changes, irritability adding along with them in the list. Almost each and every person around the world is either sad or depressed. Some because of family, some for their future and career, some of them are experiencing financial problems and some are depressed because of loneliness.

While pandemics and widespread outbreaks of various diseases have happened before, the scale of public health responses, and the context in which the Covid-19 pandemic has occurred-both historically and politically- is unique. We are living in times when social media is blasting into our lives a tidal wave of information both good and bad, true and false. We are being bombarded with news which is creating panic among people. All of these things are certainly contributing to already mounting levels of Covid-19 related stress. The isolation is creating a sense of loneliness among people and unsurprisingly loneliness is linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety. Prolonged social isolation – our primary strategy to reduce the spread of the virus – adds another layer of risk. Our bodies are not designed to handle social deprivation for long and past studies have proved that people forced to “shelter in place” will experience more depression. In a survey on mental health prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which include recent KFF polling data on mental health effects of the pandemic, it has been seen that significantly higher shares of people who were sheltering in place (47%) reported negative mental health effects resulting from worry or stress related to coronavirus than among those not sheltering in place (37%). Negative mental health effects due to social isolation may be particularly pronounced among older adults and households with adolescents, as these groups are already at risk for depression or suicidal ideation. Thus, loneliness breeds depression. The interruption in normal life has created chaos and has resulted in the deterioration of mental health. Social isolation contributes to the pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders and suicidal behaviour. In his famous book on suicide, Durkheim emphasized that social connectedness is a critical factor in emotional health and social stability. The impact of economic problems related to Covid-19 crisis on mental health may be severe. Millions of people around the world lost their jobs. Historically, economic downturns were associated with mental health disorders and suicide. Mental health consequences of the Covid-19 crisis including suicidal behaviour are likely to peak later than the actual pandemic. Loneliness doesn’t only affect our mental well-being but also our physical health. It can cause an increase in cortisol, which can “impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system, and increase your risk for vascular problems, inflammation and heart disease” , according to the Cleveland Clinic. Studies have found that loneliness may also negatively affect sleep quality, raise cholesterol and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Long term feeling of loneliness and social isolation can also reduce cognitive skills such as ability to concentrate, make decisions, problem- solving capacities and even change negative self beliefs, and ultimately lead to depression. Depression has been linked to problems or imbalances in the brain with regard to the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. The neurotransmitter serotonin is involved in regulating many important (body-oriented) functions, including sleep, aggression, eating, sexual behaviour and mood. Serotonin is produced by serotonergic neurons. Current research shows that a decrease in the production of serotonin by these neurons can cause depression in some people, and more specifically, a mood state that can cause some people to feel suicidal. On the other hand Norepinephrine helps our bodies to recognize and respond to stressful situations and the deficiency of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine is responsible for creating a depressed mood and makes us vulnerable to stressful situations. The neurotransmitter dopamine is also linked to depression. It plays a role in regulating our drive to seek out rewards, as well as our ability to obtain a sense of pleasure. Low dopamine levels may in part explain why depressed people don’t derive the same sense of pleasure out of activities or people that they did before were depressed.

So it is really important to maintain a homeostasis between physical and mental health as both of them are the two different sides of the same coin. If you are struggling and find that the situation is becoming overwhelming, don’t wait. Talk to a psychologist sooner than later. The basic help is still available during this pandemic. Remember that long-term stress can be harmful and can lead to other health problems. If you feel your frustration or anger about the situation is getting out of your control, call someone for help right away. If you feel extremely depressed or suicidal don’t hesitate to call and take help, because your life is precious. “Be strong because things will get better. Though it may be stormy now, but it never rains forever”.


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