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How to Avoid Depression During the Coronavirus Outbreak by Robert Leahy, Ph.D.

As more people self-isolate to reduce the spread of COVID-19, an expert offers tips on how to prevent depression during the crisis.

Depressed woman looking out window


The outbreak of the new coronavirus has affected many areas of daily life, including mental health. With the sudden disruption of our routines and the new norm of social distancing, life as we knew it has dramatically transformed in a matter of weeks. Suddenly, many of us are facing the stress of the news—and its impact on our finances—alone, putting us at risk for depression during the coronavirus outbreak.

“This is the perfect storm for depression and anxiety,” says Dr. Robert Leahy, an attending psychologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, the author of The Worry Cure and Keeping Your Head After Losing Your Job, and a national expert in cognitive therapy.

With everything going on, people can find themselves ruminating, feeling hopeless and helpless, and, ultimately, depressed. The National Institute for Mental Health defines depression as a common but serious mood disorder that negatively affects how you feel, think, and handle daily activities such as sleeping, eating, and working. Symptoms include a persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood, irritability, and feelings of guilt and pessimism.

“We are facing a national trauma, whether it’s the fear of being infected or infecting someone else, or the economic downturn, and many people are isolated,” Dr. Leahy says.

Those who already struggle with depression and anxiety may find the situation exacerbates their feelings. Others who are used to keeping busy may suddenly find themselves alone with their thoughts more, and missing friends and family outside of their household.

While the need to maintain social distance creates some obstacles, there are specific steps you can take to “make the best of the worst,” according to Dr. Leahy. Here, he lays out ways to protect your mental health and prevent depression during the coronavirus outbreak.

Find the hope

This may sound impossible during a difficult time, but rather than think, “This is the rest of my life,” take it day by day or week by week. Take a step back and see there is reason to be hopeful. For example, in Wuhan Province in China, where the outbreak began, the reported number of new cases has dropped significantly and on some days has been zero, thanks to quarantining measures. Stores and factories are beginning to reopen. By seeing solutions that worked for those communities and continuing to take serious precautions, we are increasing the chances that the future is not as hopeless or extreme as we fear.

For individuals feeling the financial impact of the coronavirus, a silver lining may be especially hard to find during this time. Try to adjust your mindset: If you’ve lost work, rather than seeing this as a permanent situation, think of it as the time in between returning to work. Once the pandemic emergency is over, there will be pent-up demand — everyone will be eager to go out to restaurants and travel, so many of those jobs will be there again.

Read this article in Chinese or Spanish.

Keep a schedule

Lots of folks have lost their usual routines, and that unstructured time can also lead to rumination and passivity, high risk factors for depression. Schedule your day, down to the hour. At the end of the day, check things off and make a to-do list for the next day, so you can look forward to things. Create a set of goals for the week and for the month, then make some longer-term goals.

It’s especially important to keep structure if you’ve lost your job. It’s natural for people to be upset when they’re unemployed. In addition to the financial


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