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If you want to help someone during the coronavirus pandemic, keep an eye out for signs of depression in your loved ones — and in yourself.
A worldwide crisis “comes with a lot of uncertainty,” said Travis Mickelson, a child psychiatrist and medical director of Intermountain Healthcare’s Mental Health Integration program. “Sometimes it makes us think more globally. … We maximize, we catastrophize. Just because the coronavirus is uncertain, then everything is uncertain.”
If you don’t have a history of depression, Mickelson said, such uncertainty can bring stress — and you should make sure you employ healthy strategies to manage that stress. Often, those strategies can be simple things, he said, “like walking or biking or playing guitar” — the everyday activities that make you happy.
Taking care of others also can have benefits. “Being helpful is a great way to relieve stress,” he said.
However, “it’s harder for people who are depressed to use those strategies that bring them joy,” Mickelson said. In those cases, encouraging someone to continue those joy-inducing activities, like they would do normally, can help get them through times of crisis.
Two of the most common symptoms for adults dealing with depression, he said, are a feeling of sadness or hopelessness, and a loss of interest in the activities they usually enjoy.
Children — particularly teenagers — who have depression can have the same symptoms, though with teens, the sadness can sometimes come across as being irritable, Mickelson said.
Teens may be particularly “worried about missing graduation or IB [International Baccalaureate] exams” or other activities canceled because of social distancing restrictions, he said.
He suggested that parents who are usually strict about screen time can loosen up a bit, “to allow their children and teens to socially engage."
Mickelson also suggests that teens can help their grandparents — who are unfamiliar with Instagram and Snapchat and other social platforms — by writing them letters, to make both generations feel less alone.
Mickelson listed several resources available if you or someone you know is dealing with depression to the point where there’s the possibility of self-harm:
• The SafeUT app, available for Android or iPhone devices, can connect you to a crisis counselor.
• The University of Utah Mobile Crisis Outreach Team, at 801-587-3000, can go to your house or school, and identify whether someone is having a physical or emotional crisis.
• The National Suicide Prevention Hotline, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), will connect you to someone nearby to talk to, 24 hours a day.
It’s important to talk about suicide, Mickelson said, as part of preventing it. It’s a myth that talking about suicide will encourage suicidal thoughts, he said.
If you believe someone is at risk, Mickelson said, you should secure any firearms or medications in your house until the crisis has passed. Utah has a “safe harbor” law, which allows a gun owner or spouse to store their firearms temporarily with law enforcement, free of charge, if they believe someone at home is a danger to themselves or others.
Emergency departments, he said, are well-trained in assessing suicide risks. And there’s the first line of defense: Talking to your primary care provider — in person, over the phone, through telemedicine services or through apps like FaceTime.
“If they’re having any concern, if their symptoms of depression are worsening, their primary care provider is there for them to have that conversation,” he said.
Do you know of a way Utahns can help? Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.