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COVID-19: When Does Sadness Become Depression?

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Many of us are getting close to the two-week mark of self isolation, which can lead to all kinds of health issues.  I wanted to write this article as a follow up to previous articles showing that prolonged anxiety and self isolation can lead to depression, but many of the symptoms of depression are healthy for up to the first couple weeks.  So similar to anxiety, it is OK to feel sad during this pandemic, and that sadness is not the same thing as depression.  The aim of this article is to know when our emotions become unhealthy and when to seek help from a professional.

Even under regular circumstances people can slip into depression because of a loss of a job, loss of relationship, loss of a loved one, loss in general.  And now we’ve all lost a lot; with some loosing more than others.  When we lose something, or get hurt, it is normal and healthy to feel sad.  Throughout human existence emotions like anxiety, disgust and fear have evolved to help us in survival situations.  Sadness is no different. As a collective for our species, sadness can help reduce judgements, increase perseverance, and even promote generosity.  These are many of the positive behaviours I’ve seen people exhibit during this time (Facebook group I would highly recommend to see examples of this behaviour from around the world is “The Kindness Pandemic”).  As for individuals, sadness can improve our memory, our motivation and perseverance on more difficult tasks to help get us back to a more neutral or positive state.  So, when society tries to always promote us to constantly seek out happiness, remember it is sometimes best to embrace our sadness as it could be helping us. 

But as I said depression is not sadness.  Sadness can last up to a couple weeks, depending on the circumstance.  Depression is a diagnosable illness that not only lasts longer, but is outside our normal range of emotions.  And when I say normal, what is normal to one person, isn’t to another. According to Canada’s Ministry of Health, approximately 25% of Canadians could get diagnosed with depression and require some form of medical treatment.  Aside from sadness, other symptoms of depression include:

  • Loss of interest or enjoyment in previously enjoyed activities
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Excessive mood swings
  • Self criticism and negative thoughts
  • Body aches and pains (particularly in the lower back)
  • In worst cases - suicidal thoughts.

If you start to notice more than two weeks have passed and these symptoms get worse, reach out to a professional.  During this time, it might be difficult to get access to a family doctor and so here are some online supports to help you: - Is a free tool offered by Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)  that offers support to relieve symptoms of mild to moderate anxiety and depression in Canadians over 15. - Talk to a doctor online and get access to a prescription, may come with a small fee.

If your work has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) they can offer many different supports for mental health.  If you are unsure of where to find your EAP information, talk to your human resource professional to help you find that information.  In future articles I’ll be discussing all different supports Employee Assistance Progam’s can offer employees.

Just remember if we catch the symptoms of anxiety and depression and take appropriate steps early, we have a greater chance at recovery.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Christine Fuda is the Mental Health First Aid Coordinator at Ontario Shores. During the pandemic, she will be blogging regularly around the impact of COVID-19 from a mental health perspective. Send your suggestions for topics to @email

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