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How COVID-19 Is Helping Bring Depression Out of the Shadows

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Like so many of us “sheltering in place” due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) — the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system — I have been in contact with people mainly over the phone, text or through brief chats with neighbors on separate sides of the street.

And while the content of the conversations differs somewhat, I have noticed a similar theme cropping up. Take, for example, a text from a friend of mine who has been working from home for the past month:

“I don’t know what’s wrong, but I’m having a really hard time getting out of bed in the morning. Showering, getting dressed, putting on makeup — all of it feels exhausting and pointless.”

And this, from a fellow student in my (now-canceled) art class:

“I have all this time to be creative, but I just can’t motivate. Things I used to enjoy doing just don’t feel fun anymore.”

Or this, from my next-door neighbor:

“The longer I am home, the harder it is to leave the house. Just going to the supermarket or the drug store feels so overwhelming.”

Unmotivated. Overwhelmed. Apathetic. Irritable. Lonely. Fatigued.

Sound familiar?

For many of us struggling with mental illness, these emotions surfacing in our friends, family members and colleagues are intimately familiar. And as someone who has lived with severe depression and anxiety for the last three years, it puts me in an interesting position.

On one hand, I am sympathetic. Who, better than I, would understand how debilitating isolation, anxiety and inertia can be? I am grateful to be in a place where I can lend counsel, support and even some levity to the people I care about most during this incredibly trying time.

And while I would never wish anxiety and depression on anyone, I have found a strange sense of comfort in knowing that a wider swath of people are experiencing — many for the first time — some of the debilitating symptoms that plague those of us with mental illness.

Please know, this is not a “misery loves company” kind of thing, nor is it meant to sound spiteful or smug. But for me, one of the most devastating aspects of my illness is the sense of loneliness and isolation that comes from an inability to accurately put my experience into words. I can, of course, rattle off phrases like “ ongoing sadness,” “ unrelenting lethargy,” “lack of motivation” and “debilitating fear.” But none of these descriptions speak to the way chronic mental illness erodes family and work life, sleep, marriages and community involvement.

And while there is no arguing that COVID-19 has reaped catastrophic devastation, I believe it has done something to bring mental illness out of the shadows and into public awareness. With adversity comes the chance for all of us to strengthen our resilience, reevaluate our priorities and extend our empathy toward those who are marginalized by a society that is too busy and too distracted to take much notice.

I have no doubt that when things go back to “normal,” the isolation, lack of motivation and loss of purpose that so many of my friends and family are feeling during this time will lift. But for those of us with ongoing mental illness, these emotions will continue within the quarantine of our own minds. Hopefully, the next time I reach out for help, the people I love will have a deeper appreciation of what I am going through — one that can’t come from words, but through experiencing similar feelings, firsthand.

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community:

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash

Originally published: April 22, 2020
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