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  • Writer's pictureSkye White

COVID Blues and Pandemic Worries vs Depression and Anxiety: How to Tell the Difference

When does sadness become depression? When does worry become anxiety?

Feeling sad or down and worrying about the future is normal. Feeling like this during the COVID 19 pandemic is also normal and completely expected. The uncertainty of the future coupled with social distancing and isolation lends itself to feeling these normal human emotions. However, there is a difference between sadness and depression versus worry and anxiety. How do we differentiate the COVID blues from clinical depression or anxiety? When do you seek help for yourself or offer support to loved ones?

Is it sadness or depression?

Humans have a vast range of emotions and sadness is one of them. It’s natural to feel sad, particularly since COVID 19 has disrupted daily life for many of us. Mandated social distancing can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can cause us to feel sad or down. When do these feelings of sadness cross over into clinical depression?

Depression is persistent — lasting two weeks or more. It can cause a lack of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, difficulty concentrating, sleeping too little or two much, poor appetite or overeating, moving or speaking slowly, poor self esteem, and thoughts of suicide or self-harm. When these symptoms begin to affect everyday functioning and relationships, it may be time to seek help. This can be circumstantial and still be considered depression.

Are you just worried? Or is it anxiety?

Worry is also a natural process. It is an evolutionary trait which helps keep us safe from dangerous situations. When things are out of our control or the future seems uncertain, worry can be inevitable for some. An anxiety disorder differs from worry because it is persistent; it causes real pain and distress, and interferes with daily functioning and relationships. There are different types of anxiety disorders with varying symptoms. When anxiety begins to interfere with functioning, it may be time to reach out for help.

When to seek or offer support

The bottom line in determining whether to seek support for yourself or offer support to a loved one is when the symptoms become overly distressing or disruptive of daily life or relationships. If a loved one is beginning to show these signs, reach out in a respectful and non-judgmental way. Mental health issues are often stigmatized in society, but offering consistent, respectful support can encourage your loved one to feel safe in seeking professional help. When reaching out, be sure to have realistic expectations. Your loved one may not be ready to seek or accept help. But let them know that you are a safe, consistent person to confide in if and when they are ready. Familiarize yourself with local resources to provide when your loved one is ready.

What help is available?

Both depression and anxiety are very common diagnoses and are effectively treated with talk therapy. Many therapists offer video sessions. Telehealth is a safe, effective way to access mental health support and is covered by most insurance companies.

There are also many online support groups. Some local groups can be found through the National Alliance on Mental Illness website:

For immediate help, there are crisis lines available. The King County Crisis Line operates 24/7 and can be reached at 1–866–427–4747. The Washington State Warm Line is staffed by volunteers with lived experience and can be reached Mondays through Fridays 5pm-9pm and weekends 12:30pm-9pm at 1–877–500–9276.

And you’re always welcome to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists at Catalyst Counseling

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