Like many other chronic illnesses, COVID-19 can increase the chances of depression.

A man wearing a face mask, looking sadly out his window during the pandemic.Share on Pinterest
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As of spring 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) downgraded COVID-19 from a public health emergency to an ongoing health issue. This doesn’t mean the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is gone, nor that people should stop taking precautions.

Instead, it means medical and scientific communities now view the virus as being on par with other longstanding viruses, like influenza: It’s controllable but still potentially dangerous.

Thanks to medical advancements in vaccines and antiviral medications, more people are protected from developing severe cases of COVID-19, and the risk of wide-scale community transmission is greatly reduced.

However, since this is still a relatively new virus, medical and research communities are still learning how COVID-19 affects people in the long term.

Physically, we know that long COVID — the long lasting physical effects of the disease — are real.

People who had COVID-19 in the initial year of the pandemic before vaccines were established or who were never vaccinated have reported long-term respiratory, sensory, neurological, and metabolic side effects that are well documented.

But the mental health implications behind COVID-19 and transmission mitigation efforts, like lockdowns and social distancing, are being investigated.

In 2022, the WHO found that COVID-19-related pandemic triggers led to a 25% increase in depression and anxiety worldwide.

A variety of contributing factors are behind this increase. Anxieties around nationwide shutdowns, social distancing, and concerns about financially surviving the COVID-19 pandemic all led to an uptick in depression and anxiety symptoms.

Getting COVID-19, as well as the health and associated financial expenses for treating it, only increased pressures that can lead to depression. Likewise, inadequate access to mental health resources further exacerbated this increase.

However, a 2021 preprint study published by the National Institutes of Health found that in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety and depression symptoms were more common in people who recently contracted an infection versus those with negative test results.

Researchers noted that anxiety and depression symptoms were more likely in people ages 40 years and older, and that as time progressed after their diagnosis, those symptoms tended to decrease.

This suggests that while COVID-19 might trigger depression symptoms, it’s not a true stand-alone cause.

How is depression linked to long COVID?

In a 2022 study, participants who experienced psychological distress before getting COVID-19 — including depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness, and worry about the disease — had an increased risk of self-reporting long COVID symptoms, such as fatigue, smell and taste problems, and shortness of breath, weeks after contracting the coronavirus.

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Given how quickly COVID-19 progressed and treatments were released, many people had questions about not just how effective vaccines were, but what the long lasting implications could be.

However, research suggests that getting vaccinated is not a contributing factor for anxiety or depression.

A 2022 study involved over 450,000 participants. Data was compiled between January 6 and June 7, 2021. Of the group, 52.2% were vaccinated. Of the entire cohort, 26.5% self-reported experiencing anxiety and 20.3% self-reported experiencing depression.

But of the group with anxiety or depression symptoms, the vaccinated group had a 13% lower chance of experiencing anxiety and 17% lower chance of depression.

In short, getting vaccinated won’t increase your chances of anxiety or depression. In truth, it might reduce your chances of adverse COVID-19-related mental health outcomes.

Lockdowns, while essential to reduce transmission, were a major contributing factor toward depression for many people.

A 2023 study found that the lockdown was a prime driver for mental health issues, substance use, and suicides during the height of the pandemic. Researchers found that by early 2021, 4 in 10 adults reported experiencing depression or anxiety, which was up from 3 in 10 adults pre-pandemic.

Ripple effects from lockdowns, such as job loss, financial instability, illness, grief from loved ones who died, isolation, and loneliness, compounded mental health issues. Similarly, drug overdoses, specifically from fentanyl, also increased during the pandemic.

People who were surveyed in 2023 for the study noted that household job loss was one of the leading drivers for anxiety or depression.

Even before the pandemic, job loss is a leading trigger for mental health issues, but it was exacerbated during lockdown.

Meanwhile, younger people ages 18–24 years had the highest incidence of self-reported symptoms at nearly 50% of the total cohort.

You’re not alone

Experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression either because of the COVID-19 pandemic in general or your personal experiences with it isn’t strange. Seeking help to cope is courageous, not a sign of “weakness.”

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, you can call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or visit their website to talk with someone 24/7 free of charge.

If COVID-related anxiety or depression is impairing your ability to navigate daily life, consider contacting any of the below resources:

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You’re not alone if the COVID-19 pandemic left you feeling uneasy, stressed, anxious, or uncertain about what the future might hold.

Even if you never got COVID-19, social distancing, job loss, or losing loved ones are all valid reasons to experience mental health issues.

If you’re experiencing depression symptoms — whether COVID-19 related or not — there are resources to help you cope, regardless of your income level or insurance coverage.

There are many approaches you can use to treat depression. If you’re new to mental health care, you might talk with a doctor about any of these options:

Free mental health assistance

If you don’t have insurance or can’t afford traditional mental health services, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a free helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).

The helpline provides information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in English and Spanish about support groups, community organizations, and treatment facilities in your area.

If you’re in crisis and need immediate assistance, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 to be immediately connected with a crisis support partner.

You can also visit SAMHSA’s COVID-19 resource page for pandemic-specific information.

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The COVID-19 vaccine won’t increase your chances of experiencing depression or anxiety. In fact, it might reduce them.

However, getting COVID-19, experiencing the after-effects of nationwide lockdowns, or losing loved ones to the coronavirus can heighten anxiety or trigger depression.

But you don’t have to live in silence. Several national, statewide, and local resources can give you access to free or low cost mental health support to help you work through these challenges.