People don’t just die from COVID-19. They die because of it

Those who have lost loved ones from the pandemic along with first responders and health-care professionals face mental issues, depression or worse.

Depressed in these pandemic times? Welcome to the club. Those who lose family or friends or both are fighting depression. First responders and health care workers see too many infections and deaths face increasing stress, depression and mental issues.

Too often, that depression leads to increased drug or alcohol abuse or suicide.

“Along with the resurgence of COVID-19, an insidious and less perceptible pandemic has arisen: one of anxiety, depression and grief,” says Erin Marcus, professor of clinical medicine at the University of Miami.

She adds in a Washington Post article:

It’s a phenomenon I’ve seen among people seeking help in the primary care clinic where I work. I think of the woman who, after her mother and sister died of COVID-19, lost the motivation to take her diabetes medication, or do much of anything else. The man who recovered from COVID-19 but who now can’t sleep because of flashbacks to his time in the hospital. The woman whose adult children recovered from COVID-19 — but who is so anxious about venturing out of her tiny apartment that her normally well-controlled blood pressure has rocketed to dangerously high levels.

Marcus says a recent nationwide survey finds “U.S. adults were more than three times more likely to screen positive for anxiety and depressive disorders, compared with one year earlier. Another survey found a significant increase in alcohol use.

“Every person who dies of COVID-19 leaves behind, on average, nine close family members — a grandchild, son, daughter, brother, sister, spouse, mother or father. The grief experienced by those surviving family members and friends is a normal reaction to loss. But some psychologists fear that the circumstances of COVID-19 — in which people might die unexpectedly or alone, and without the normal rituals of community remembrance such as a memorial service — may increase the likelihood of prolonged grief disorder, a disabling condition that can last years and raise the risk of suicide or alcohol and drug abuse.

“More than 1 in 10 adult American workers are employed in the health-care sector, and many of them have witnessed events that leave them vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological consequences. Other Americans have lost their jobs, which itself can cause anxiety and depression.”

Reports Claudia Wallis in Scientific American:

You didn’t need a crystal ball to forecast that the COVID-19 pandemic would devastate mental health. Illness or fear of illness, social isolation, economic insecurity, disruption of routine and loss of loved ones are known risk factors for depression and anxiety. Now studies have confirmed the predictions. But psychologists say the findings also include surprises about the wide extent of mental distress; the way media consumption exacerbates it; and how badly it has affected young people.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control found “a tripling of anxiety symptoms and a quadrupling of depression among 5,470 adults surveyed compared with a 2019 sample.”

Surveys this year by researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health and another at Johns Hopkins University, found that the prevalence of depressive symptoms (B.U.) and “serious psychological distress” (Hopkins) were triple the level measured in 2018.

“These rates were higher than what we’ve seen after other large-scale traumas like September 11th, Hurricane Katrina and the Hong Kong unrest,” says Catherine Ettman, lead author of the B.U. study.

CDC’s survey shows 62.9 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds reported an anxiety or depressive disorder, a quarter said they were using more drugs and alcohol to cope with pandemic-related stress, and a quarter said they had “seriously considered suicide” in the previous 30 days. Young adults were also the most affected age group in an unusual, real-time study that tracked the rapid rise in “acute distress” and depression at three points between mid-March and mid-April.

“We expected the opposite because it was already clear that older individuals were at greater risk” from the virus, notes senior author Roxane Cohen Silver, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine.

“Young people,” Silver says, “may have had more disruption in life events: graduations, weddings, the senior year of college and of high school. All those transitions were disrupted, as well as school and social connections, which we know are very important for young people.”

Silver says those who follow a lot of news may also get depressed by what they are reading and watching.

““If people are engaged with a great deal of media, they are more likely to exhibit and report distress, but that distress seems to draw them further into the media. It’s a cyclical pattern from which it is difficult to extricate oneself,” she adds.

We have friends fighting depression after losing loved ones to the pandemic. Same for first responders and health-care workers. Knowing that, in itself, is depressing.