Amid the glut of health issues arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, depression is one that has arguably gained the most prominence.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported that 19.2 per cent of adults suffered with depression between the peak lockdown months of March and July, up from 9.7 per cent over the same period last year.
There are many theories as to why this figure doubled, but clearly the many negative facets of the pandemic were at the heart of the increase.
But depression didn’t begin in March 2020. People have suffered with depression for centuries, yet it remains one of the most misunderstood illnesses.
What is depression?
According to the NHS, “when you’re depressed you feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days. Some people think depression is… not a genuine health condition. They’re wrong – it is a real illness with real symptoms. The good news is that with the right treatment and support, most people with depression can make a full recovery.”
How do I recognise when someone is suffering from depression?
There are many symptoms of depression including low mood, feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem, lack of energy and problems with sleep. The more symptoms someone has, the more likely they are to be depressed.
How can I help someone suffering from depression?
Listening is an oft-underrated form of support. If a person has depression, having someone to talk to and share their feelings with can be extremely therapeutic. More practically, it may be worth highlighting the fact that, as a starting point, many people with depression benefit by making lifestyle changes such as getting more exercise, cutting down on alcohol, giving up smoking and eating healthily.
Lockdown is believed to have been a key contributing factor to this dramatic rise in adult depression – and it may also have a long-term impact on friendships, predicted evolutionary psychologist Prof Robin Dunbar.
In a paper in the Royal Society journal, Prof Dunbar looked at the ways in which our social connections will be changed by lockdown.
Although Zoom calls and WhatsApp groups have become the go-to forms of communication during this annus horribilis, Dunbar reminded us of the importance of face-to-face interaction.
“We have to see people surprisingly often to maintain a friendship,” he said. “In lockdown, many people [formed] new friendships with people on their street and in their community for the first time.
“So when we emerge from lockdown, some of our more marginal friendships might be replaced by some of these new ones.”
Prof Dunbar went further to highlight the importance of not just face-to-face communication, but also physical contact as a way of strengthening an existing relationship.
“We make physical contact all the time,” he said. “There are strict natural rules about who we can touch, but with close friends and family, we pat on the back, we touch a shoulder…
“Because it’s below the horizon of consciousness, we don’t appreciate how important it is to us.”
And while he believes our reliance on online friendships are merely a temporary fix, he warned that it would take time to fully restore pre-lockdown relationships.