Depression: The intangible burden of the pandemic
Updated: Sep 2
Over the past year, the pandemic has affected the mental health of innumerable people. It should not come as a surprise that when people cannot meet one another, cannot connect with nature, cannot leave their homes to go about their daily lives, and are living in a constant state of fear, that they might experience poor mental health outcomes. However, the manner in which the pandemic has caused widespread distress on a global scale is unprecedented. International surveys peg mental illnesses such as depression to be about 3 times more frequent during the pandemic than before (Drillinger, 2020).
Like many others, I too was complacent that being a mental health professional, I would be able to prevent mental illness, or deal with it better than others can. While empirical evidence shows that this population is no less susceptible to depression, anxiety, and a number of other conditions (Mace, 2016)￼I held on to this fallacy until I was diagnosed with depression in September 2020. What followed was a slow and painstaking road to recovery, characterized by learning- both more about myself and my field.
As I experienced loneliness and isolation during the lockdown, I realized that my depression, too, worsened. More days alone and away from people meant more social distress, less likelihood of finding a job again, and more financial challenges. This resulted in me experiencing lower self-esteem, something that is tied to all of these aspects of the self. Often this creates what is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy (Williams, 2018). This refers to behaviors by people who are experiencing low self-esteem, that further distance them from opportunities to improve it. Although the reasons for this are beyond the scope of this article, this cycle ensured that I stayed in a similar state of mind throughout. Thus, my first goal became to become better, and although I am much better now, I can understand why most people who are living through this pandemic may not be. It took over a year of therapy, almost a year of psychiatric medication, and a strong support network of family and friends for me to feel better, coupled with a greater understanding of my own needs.
The mass unemployment caused by the pandemic, and the economic challenges every individual faces as a consequence of that have led to a destabilization of financial security. Along with this, the large-scale state of fear of contracting the virus, the government-imposed lockdowns, the grief of losing loved ones to the disease, and the uncertainty about the future, have led humanity into what is being described as ‘mass trauma’ (Prideaux, 2021).
The literature around depression often refers to the ‘intangible burden’ caused by it. This refers to the distress and breakdowns in social, physical, and work functioning that is impaired by the illness (Depression Alliance, 2008). It is this ‘intangible burden’ that cannot be accounted for in
the economic cost of depression, but is what most people in therapy or struggling with mental illness work harder to address every day.
Organizations and individuals across the world are understanding that experiencing such levels of distress at this scale, is not sustainable. Here at Sangath, we mobilized resources in various directions to help combat this, some of which are detailed below. In June last year, we launched the My Wellness & Covid-19 survey that assesses the impact of the lockdown and the pandemic, particularly with regards to mental and social wellbeing.
A staggering 30% of our survey respondents report feeling mild to severe depressive symptoms since the pandemic began. If the pandemic affected your mental wellbeing in some way and you find it hard to perform how you normally would in your personal, social or occupational life, you are not alone. Help is available, and the pandemic has led to a lot of professionals volunteering their time for lesser rates, in addition to the free helpline services already available. I understand the hesitation that you may face in reaching out to someone, but trying to overcome that is important since you will thank yourself in the long run. Sangath’s Covid-19 Well-being center is well equipped to provide you with resources for self-care, and referrals to professionals as well as information about our toll-free telecounseling helpline. You can find more information here: https://sangath.in/resource-center/
As more of the population gets vaccinated, curves start to flatten around the globe and restrictions start to relax, we can hope for better mental health for all of us. However, the systemic flaws such as casteism, sexism, racism, and queer/trans negativity that create distress for vulnerable groups existed before and will continue to exist after the pandemic. Moving towards a society that is more empathetic towards mental illness is a process that will save lives, improve outcomes, and enable us all to reduce ‘the burden’.
Depression Alliance. (2008). The Inside Story: The Impact of Depression on Daily Life. London: Servier. From https://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_determinants/life_style/mental/docs/insidestory.pdf
Drillinger, M. (2020, September 10). Depression Symptoms 3 Times Higher During COVID-19 Lockdown. From Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/depression-symptoms-3-times-higher-during-covid-19-lockdown
Mace, W. L. (2016, April 27). Depressed Psychologists: Therapeutic Failure, Stress and Burnout. From Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/campus-confidential-coping-college/201604/depressed-psychologists
Prideaux, E. (2021, February 4). How to heal the 'mass trauma' of Covid-19. From BBC: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210203-after-the-covid-19-pandemic-how-will-we-heal
Williams, W. (2018, January 29). Breaking the Link Between Low Self-Esteem and Self-Sabotage. From PsychCentral: https://psychcentral.com/blog/breaking-the-link-between-low-self-esteem-and-self-sabotage#1