Depression reports in Arizona have more than tripled during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with prior annual reports.
Depression is the “leading cause of disability worldwide,” according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness. In 2019, 12.4% of the approximate 5.2 million recorded adults at the time in Arizona reported not having good mental health for 14 or more days in the recorded 30-day period, according to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System that is managed by the CDC.
That means almost 650,000 adults reported long periods of poor mental health in 2019.
According to a household pulse survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, conducted this year between Sept. 30 to Oct. 12, 42% of approximately 5.6 million recorded adults in Arizona have reported feeling depressed over the course of the recorded period during the COVID-19 pandemic. The reports ranged from several days of feeling depressed to nearly every day.
Situational depression is the most common type, which is brought about stressful life events, according to Dr. Mary Alvord, a clinical psychologist practicing in Maryland. This year alone has been stressful for the country because of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial tension, and economic and financial problems, according to Dr. Alvord.
Of the approximate 5.6 million recorded respondents said to feel depressed from the census survey in Arizona, 45% were between the ages of 18 and 39.
Cassidy Millican, a 20-year-old patient care assistant, was diagnosed with depression in March. She said she was stressed with working in the front line during the initial wave of the pandemic, taking care of patients while dealing with her own depression.
“Going into work, having to deal with COVID-19 patients and not knowing if this person's going to live or die, it’s all a lot for a regular, healthy person to deal with,” Ms. Millican said. “So it’s a lot for someone with a mental illness, having to get over that mental barrier and still care for a person and not just break down and cry, especially when you don't always have the correct supplies.”
Whether people return to better mental health after the pandemic is passed remains to be seen, Dr. Alvord said, calling it is a very “tricky” topic. People who were depressed are more isolated than normal, which “aggravates” their depression more, according to Alvord.
“A lot of it is what we call ‘thinking errors,’” Dr. Alvord said. “It tends to be when people think more about what's not going well.”
Ms. Millican describes what her depression felt like as someone trying to connect a monitor to a computer, and that they may have the right wires, but the wires just may not be working properly.
“There’s just an imbalance in a person's brain where they're not getting enough serotonin or dopamine, so those protein receptors in the brain have nothing connecting to them enzyme-wise,” Ms. Millican said.
Dr. Alvord said the key to getting out of the depressive mindset in which many are stuck is to focus on what one can control and what they can’t. She states to also focus on what one finds “pleasurable” and adjust as needed to what they can do currently with the respective set pandemic restrictions.
“There are things that maybe are not going well that you really have to think, ‘Ok, what can I do to make it better?’” Dr. Alvord said. “Think about what was pleasurable before and now how we have to shift gears.”
Dr. Alvord said she believes it is more important than ever to stay in contact with friends and family and to seek help or support when needed.
“Those connections are really critical and to know that you're not alone,” Alvord said. “It's not shameful or a sign of weakness to reach out for support.”
Crystal Grassi is a student a the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University.