En español | Yes, the pandemic is making you crazy, at least according to a 2021 report from Mental Health America, which screened 1.5 million Americans from January to September 2020. It found that 8 out of 10 respondents were experiencing “moderate to severe” symptoms of anxiety and depression. Those rates rose as the year progressed.
The key question
On any given day, am I sadder or angrier than I was before the pandemic?
Poor mood is one of the first indicators that we're not processing stress the way we should, says David H. Rosmarin, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. "Stress is an imbalance between resources and demands. So when you have fewer resources and more demands, you're going to feel more stressed."
Test yourself: The depression scale
Researchers at Columbia University developed the Patient Health Questionnaire, a screening tool to measure levels of depression. (We have a version for you to take, below.) If you score 10 or higher, it may be worth looking into treatment.
Before you jump to any conclusions about your mental health, though, let's put things in perspective. “Everyone is going to have a crappy week from time to time,” Rosmarin says. “But if symptoms persist more than 30 days, you really need to reach out for help.”
- Do I have low energy or low-grade physical pain?
A lack of motivation, along with physical problems (such as back pain or headaches) that aren't associated with any injury or medical condition and that persist for more than 30 days, is "definitely worth discussing," Rosmarin says, "and might have more of a mental ideology to them."
- Are you still having fun (all things considered)?
You may have never heard the term "anhedonia," but you've probably heard of its definition: an inability to feel pleasure. Anhedonia is a big red flag, says Rosmarin, and a classic symptom of major depression. Also, one study of adults older than 60 found that those with anhedonia were five times as likely to develop dementia. The year 2020 sucked the joy out of many things, but if you or a loved one quits doing something — for a month or more — that was once cherished, you need to find out why.
- How do you judge your reaction to stress?
"If I interpret my stress reaction as, Oh, I'm a weak person — something's wrong with me, that's going to make life a heck of a lot worse," Rosmarin says.
- Why are you here?
"This is less religion and more about understanding that there's ultimate meaning," Rosmarin says. "For some, just the idea of having meaning and purpose helps them get through the most difficult times. Are there still dreams and hopes and wishes that you have yet to fulfill? How can you get there?"
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There are certain times when being older is a solid advantage. And from a mental-health perspective, the past year has borne that out. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last summer found that people age 65 and older reported significantly lower rates of anxiety, depression or stress-related disorder during the pandemic than those younger than 65. For example, people ages 45 through 64 showed anxiety rates of about 16 percent, but those older than 65 showed rates of just 6 percent. Still, it's been a stressful year, and it can't hurt to check in with yourself.
For the nine situations below, simply answer this question: Over the past two weeks, how often have I encountered or been bothered by this?
0 = Not at all | 1 = Several days | 2 = More than half the time | 3 = Nearly every day
- Little interest or pleasure in doing things
- Feeling down, depressed or hopeless
- Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
- Feeling tired or having little energy
- Poor appetite or overeating
- Feeling bad about yourself — or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down
- Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television
- Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed? Or the opposite — being so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual
- Thoughts that you would be better off dead or of hurting yourself in some way*
SCORING: Tally up the nine scores to see your level of depression risk.
5–9: mild; 10–14: moderate; 15–19: moderately severe; 20 or higher: severe
*If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.