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COVID-19 has tripled the rate of depression symptoms in US adults.

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Another week has come and gone. I don’t know about the rest of you, but here in the health department it seems akin to Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.” 

Same story, just a different day. 

Case investigations and contact tracing, nursing home and other congregate settings needing advice, schools burning up the phone lines with questions, planning for vaccine in the near future, meeting with community partners, responding to complaints about masks and numbers of people in a business, interacting with the media — all of these and many other COVID-related tasks are being performed every day. Not to mention the regular work of the department which has ramped up again.

It seems that many in our district have grown accustomed to the “new normal,” at least for now. It can seem to be a grind, but we need to continue that battle for a while longer. I hear from many that they wish they could “cancel” COVID-19. If that were only the case . . . it is here and we in the health department would remind everyone that it will be with us for the near-term.

Keep that awareness around you. Be mindful of others. Assume good intent on the part of others. Be the one to change the conversation for the better.

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As I noted early on in the pandemic, there would be collateral damage in the fight against the virus. Here is a quote from an email I sent the State Health Commissioner on March 23:

“With the institution of ever-increasingly drastic measures to curb the spread of the virus, I see perhaps an even greater danger in destroying the economy through such measures, with the resultant ramifications that brings to society and the long-term health of its citizens. We know from a population health perspective that one of the major determinants of health is the economic well-being of a person and society. I am concerned that a narrow focus on ‘flattening the curve’ in the short-term is taking precedence over the loss of life in the long term, as this entire cohort of people who are at significant risk of losing jobs, health insurance, homes, and savings suffers from suicide, abuse, increased morbidity and mortality from untreated or poorly treated conditions, mental health crises, divorce, and increased drug and alcohol abuse.”

A recent study in the JAMA Network Open shows that this has indeed occurred. COVID-19 has tripled the rate of depression symptoms in US adults, particularly among those with financial worries, and this rise in depression is much greater than after previous traumatic national events such as 9-11 or the Ebola Outbreak. 

The study looked at responses to a standard self-administered depression-screening tool that was given in 2017-2018 and again in the March-April, 2020 timeframe: 27.8 percent of adults reported depression symptoms, as compared to 8.5 percent prior to the pandemic. The burden of depression fell unequally, with respondents with lower incomes 2.4 times more likely than their peers to report depression symptoms. Interestingly respondents who were married were less likely to report these symptoms, compared to those who were widowed, divorced, separated, never married, or living with a partner.

I will look for studies that point to other examples of collateral damage, as more data comes out on suicides, drug overdoses, and other health concerns that have increased not only from the pandemic, but also from the response to the pandemic.

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Remember the things that keep us safe. Watch your distance, Wear a mask when you can’t maintain that distance, and Wash your hands.  

— The writer, a Warrenton-based medical doctor, is the health director of the Rappahannock/Rapidan Health District that includes Rappahannock County.


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