COVID-19 and Depression
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted mental health, with many people experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
- Factors such as immune response, gut-biome disruption, and psychological stress contribute to depression following COVID-19.
- Treating depression after COVID-19 may require lifestyle changes, therapy, medication, herbal supplements, and building support systems.
- The duration of depression following COVID-19 varies among individuals, and further research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of the pandemic on mental health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left an indelible mark on societies worldwide, not only due to the physical health consequences but also the profound impact on mental health. As people recover from the virus, many continue to experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health disorders.
In this article, we explore the link between COVID-19 and depression, shedding light on the factors contributing to depressive symptoms, methods of diagnosis, treatment options, and the duration of depression following COVID-19.
Does COVID-19 cause depression?
Throughout the pandemic, a significant number of adults have experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression. In early 2021, around 4 in 10 adults reported such symptoms. As the pandemic progressed, the prevalence of these symptoms gradually decreased to approximately 3 in 10 adults. 1 In addition, many people hospitalized with severe COVID-19 experienced mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, insomnia, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. 2 The risk of developing depression remains high up to a year after recovery. 3
Researchers believe that COVID-19 can impact mental health in a few major ways:
- The body's immune response to the virus itself
- Disruption of the gut biome
- Psychological stress associated with the infection and pandemic
Immune response. When COVID-19 enters your body, your immune system triggers the production of cytokines and chemokines that promote inflammation, including T-helper-2 cell-secreted cytokines. Higher levels of these cytokines have been linked to more severe COVID-19 cases and can lead to various psychiatric disorders, including depression. 2 These high levels of cytokines may also be responsible for other symptoms related to the brain, such as brain fog and sensory disorders.
Gut-biome disruption. COVID-19 can potentially impact the variety of bacteria and other microorganisms residing in the gut. This is significant because these gut microbes produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, essential for regulating mood. Therefore, any alterations in the gut microbiota caused by COVID-19 could contribute to the development of certain neuropsychiatric conditions. 4 5
Psychological factors. Isolation, fear of infecting others, and the stigma associated with a COVID-19 infection can also contribute to depression among survivors. In addition, many people lost their jobs, which also led to symptoms of anxiety and depression. 1
How can I tell if I am depressed with COVID-19?
It’s normal to feel down when your normal routine changes or if you are not feeling well. Usually, a low mood improves as your health does, which can take a few days or weeks.
Common signs of a low mood can include the following feelings: 6
- Low self-esteem
- Sense of hopelessness
However, if the low mood persists and doesn't go away, it could be a sign of depression. In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, depression may involve the following: 6
- A low mood that lasts for 2 weeks or more
- Loss of pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Sense of hopelessness
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating on everyday tasks
- Changes in appetite, such as overeating or loss of appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns, such as sleeping more or having trouble sleeping
- Having thoughts of suicide or self-harm
If you have any of these symptoms, it’s essential to seek professional help right away.
How do you treat depression after COVID?
- Lifestyle changes: Making positive changes to one's lifestyle can have a significant impact on mental well-being. This may include engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, meditating, and avoiding excessive alcohol or drug use.
- Therapy. Engaging in therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or talk therapy, can effectively manage depression. A therapist can help individuals identify and change negative thought patterns, develop coping strategies, and provide emotional support.
- Medication: In addition to treating the underlying symptoms of COVID-19, you may also be prescribed antidepressant medication if your depression is more severe. Antidepressants work by balancing certain chemicals in the brain that are associated with mood regulation.
- Herbal Supplements. Some herbal supplements are effective in treating depression, such as St. John's wort. It can be used to treat mild and even moderate depression. Doses and ingredients can vary in over-the-counter St. John's wort products, so it’s wise to talk to a doctor about prescriptive strength and ensure it will not interfere with other medications.
- Support systems: Building a solid support network is crucial in managing depression. This can involve reaching out to friends, family, or support groups for emotional support and understanding. Sharing experiences and feelings with others who may be going through similar challenges can provide a sense of community and reassurance.
Your treatment approach may vary depending on individual circumstances and the severity of your depression. Seeking guidance from a healthcare professional, such as a therapist or psychiatrist, is essential in determining the most appropriate treatment plan.
How long does depression last from COVID-19?
The duration of depression after COVID-19 can vary from person to person. While most traumatic events see depression peaking immediately after the event and subsiding over time, studies have shown an increase in depression rates since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Factors such as low household income, employment status, support systems, and experiencing multiple pandemic-related stressors increase the risk of long-term mental health impacts. 9
According to one study, people who experienced severe illness – bedridden or hospitalized for 7 days or more – are more likely to experience anxiety and/or depression 16 months after their initial illness. 10
Ultimately, the long-term duration of depression following COVID-19 is still being researched. The global pandemic has presented unique circumstances and ongoing stressors that can significantly impact individuals' mental well-being. Therefore, understanding the lasting effects of depression in the aftermath of COVID-19 requires further investigation and comprehensive studies. As researchers continue to explore the psychological impacts of this unprecedented event, a clearer understanding of the duration of depression and effective interventions can be gained.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences on mental health, with depression being a prevalent condition among survivors. The link between COVID-19 and depression can be attributed to both the physiological effects of the virus on the brain and the psychological stress associated with the illness. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for depression in COVID-19 survivors is crucial in providing appropriate care.
Q: Who is most at risk for developing depression with COVID-19?
A: Several factors increase the risk of developing depression after COVID-19. These include having a pre-existing mental health disorder, severe COVID-19 symptoms requiring hospitalization, being a young person at risk of self-harm, being female, and having pre-existing physical health conditions such as asthma, cancer, or heart disease. Other contributors to post-COVID-19 depression can be disrupted sleep patterns, social isolation, and changes in behavior like alcohol consumption or medication use.
Q: Is depression a symptom of COVID-19?
A: Depression is not considered a direct symptom of COVID-19. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted mental health, and many individuals have experienced symptoms of depression due to the pandemic's effects, such as social isolation, anxiety, and the stress of the situation. Research is emerging that the COVID-19 virus may also affect the brain in ways that can cause depression.
Q: Can COVID-19 make depression worse?
A: Yes, COVID-19 can potentially worsen symptoms of depression. The pandemic has brought about various stressors and challenges that can negatively affect mental health. The isolation, fear, uncertainty, and economic hardships associated with COVID-19 can exacerbate existing depression or trigger depressive symptoms in individuals who have not experienced depression before. Additionally, the physical health impact of COVID-19, such as prolonged illness, hospitalization, or long-term complications, can contribute to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and fatigue, which are common symptoms of depression.
Q: Is depression a higher risk factor for COVID-19?
A: Depression itself is not considered a higher risk factor for contracting COVID-19. However, individuals with depression may be more susceptible to certain risk factors associated with COVID-19. For example, people with depression may have underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems, which could increase their vulnerability to the virus. Additionally, individuals with depression may face challenges in maintaining healthy habits, such as practicing good hygiene, seeking medical care promptly, or following preventive measures.