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Q: How can I get help for depression during the pandemic?

According to some surveys, as many as half of people in the U.S. say the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their mental health. The isolation, financial worries, relationship problems, and overall stress caused by the pandemic can be especially difficult for people who are prone to depression.

Everybody gets sad or upset at times, but if you feel especially “down,” hopeless, or withdrawn from your usual activities, and the mood lasts for more than two weeks, you may be having a depressive episode. Other symptoms of depression include avoiding friends or family, increased irritability, changes in sleep habits or appetite, and thinking about harming yourself.

Fortunately, help is available. If you don’t know where to start, talk with your primary care physician about how you’re feeling and how to get support. Talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy can help, and in some cases, depression can be treated with medication. Many mental health professionals are offering virtual visits during COVID so that you can talk to a counselor from the comfort of your own home.

There are also things you can do on your own to help take care of your mental health. Make sure you are taking care of your body by getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and staying physically active. Avoid alcohol and drugs, which can make depression worse. Stay connected with friends and family with phone calls, video chats, or socially distanced visits. Limit the amount of upsetting news or content you consume and take breaks to relax or do activities you enjoy. Try a calming, mind-body practice like meditation, which has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety.

Finally, if you feel overwhelmed or are thinking about harming yourself or others, seek immediate help. Call the Hawaii mental health crisis line at (800) 753-6879, or the national suicide prevention lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

Michael J. Shea , MD

Critical care medicine

Maui Memorial Medical Center
221 Mahalani Street
Wailuku, HI 96793