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Easy steps to understanding & thwarting depression during COVID-19

Five people sitting on yoga mats outside in the grass The use of yoga is well known within the military. Here airmen of the 174th Attack Wing participate in a weekly yoga class instructed by Air Force 2nd Lt. Carley Ditro (second from left). Classes are intended to present an alternative way for 174th members to build both mental and physical strength. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Duane Morgan (New York Air National Guard, 174th Attack Wing)

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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to how we live daily life. Social distancing, quarantine, and isolation can overwhelm and cause feelings of insecurity, confusion, hopelessness, and, ultimately, depression.

The National Institute for Mental Health within the National Institutes of Health defines depression as a common but serious mood disorder that negatively affects how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities such as sleeping, eating, and working. People dealing with depression typically experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent sad or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease with treatment

We all have days when we feel down, but when the periods of sadness persist and are severe enough to impact daily functioning, it may be time to assess your emotional health by completing a self-assessment. A free, anonymous, and confidential mental health screening can be found at the Department of Veterans Affairs website. Screening results are educational, not diagnostic, but are provided so participants may find out quickly if a consultation with a mental health professional would be helpful.

Learning self-care strategies can help you take charge of your life and improve your mental and physical health. A few guiding principles can help all of us cope effectively during this time is to focus on what we can control.

  • Keep routines as much as possible. Maintaining structure and routine is critical because it reinforces order and predictability, and is something over which we have control.
  • Stay connected. Identify friends and family that you can check in with regularly. Video teleconferencing, phone calls, and other social media platforms can be a great way to connect family and friends.
  • Take breaks from listening to the news. Constant news about COVID-19 from all types of media can heighten fears about the disease. If the news cycle impacts mood and increases stress levels, it may be time to limit exposure.
  • Engage in self-care. Participate in regular physical activity to reduce stress and improve mood. Eat healthy, nutritious foods and drink plenty of water. Avoid tobacco, alcohol and drugs. Get at least seven hours of sleep each night.
  • Protect personal and family health. Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, wear a mask in public, and practice social distancing from people outside the household.

What’s the difference between a few bad days or weeks and clinical depression that requires help? A consultation with a mental health professional is recommended when feelings or tendencies have lasted for more than two weeks. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

Getting support plays an essential role in coping with depression. Professional counseling services are available for all Department of Defense beneficiaries and their families.

Military members can contact their local mental health clinic for services. Military OneSource is another option for military and their families. For more information, call (800) 342-9647 or visit the Military Onesource website.

Civilian employees may contact the Employee Assistance Program for free, confidential counseling services at (866) 580-9078 or visit the EAP website.

Comprehensive information on mental health can be found at the National Institute of Mental Health website.

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