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Francis Koster: Depression epidemic accompanies coronavirus pandemic

By Francis Koster

Our country is having two epidemics, not one.

The first one is COVID-19. In the past eight months, the COVID-19 virus has infected almost 11 million Americans and killed four times more than were killed in the entire Vietnam War. The projections are that the numbers of infected will double by the end of February 2021 to more than 22 million and the number of dead will equal that of those Americans killed in World War II.

Depressing, isn’t it? And that is just the first epidemic.

The second epidemic is actually impacting far more people, but almost no one is talking about it. Chances are you have it or know someone who does. It is called depression.

Simply put, there are two major kinds of depression. The first is the kind you get when your life takes a blow, like the passing of a loved one or lose your job. This is “normal” and usually recedes after an understandable grieving time. The second kind is what happens either when nothing went wrong in your life but you felt very down in spirit anyway. It can also be when a bad thing happened and you still do not have your emotional balance back years later. This is not “normal depression,” and requires medical help.

COVID-19 is causing a significant increase in “normal” depression.

Before COVID-19, about one in 13 Americans had an episode every year. In one study done in the spring, participants who reported symptoms of depression increased by 50% in just one month. Another done in late June found that around one in three reported suffering from anxiety or depression, and one in 10 seriously considered suicide!

You are not the only one feeling depressed.

On top of this, there is a well-known kind of depression that usually starts in the fall and lasts throughout the winter. Called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), it is caused by a reduction in exposure to sunlight due to shorter days in the fall. About one in 20 Americans feel it every year. Pile that on top of our virus mess.

The risk of depression is twice as high for women, higher still for unpaid people caring for elderly, and even higher for those who have little or no contact with family or friends outside the home. Depression can run in families. So if you have a blood relative who has experienced it, the odds you will feel it rise. Quite a number of people with depression are reading this article now.

The good news is that there are some things that you can do to help yourself and others.

First, ask yourself what you do that makes you feel better. We all have different personalities, and different experiences boost our spirits. Ride a motorcycle, buy some flowers, talk to your grandkids. Whatever lifts your spirit, schedule more of it. Second, reduce your alcohol consumption. Third, clean up your diet – eat less sugar and fat, more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Fourth, start taking some vitamins. One place to start is with Vitamin D3. In addition to helping with depression, it will lower your chances of getting Covid-19. You can also begin to take vitamin B12, which turns out to be very helpful, particularly in older males. Also, take creatine supplements In order to buy the best quality vitamins, read my article published Sept. 6 about inaccurate labeling on vitamins  (“What to do when health foods are unhealty”). Fifth, spend an hour or so outside each day.

If you need guidance about next steps, call your doctor. They can probably do a video consultation. They may order up some blood tests to check for low vitamin levels, or they may prescribe some medication. Also, speak to your doctor about getting a “sunlight box.”  This is a light that beams out specific wavelengths that hit the eyes and skin and prompt the brain to make healthy chemicals that reduce depression.

There is a national helpline you call for free help at 1-800-662- 4357. In Rowan County, you can call Novant Health at 1-800-718-3550. There is no charge.

This second epidemic is hurting more people than COVID-19. Unless we make this issue more public, it will continue to do damage to family and friends. It will take courage for you to admit you may have it, or to reach out to others you think might.

If you do not, who will?

Koster, who lives in Kannapolis, did his graduate work with a focus on threats to the basic life-support systems of air, water, food and fuel. He spent a majority of his career as chief innovation officer in one of the nation’s largest pediatric health care systems.

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