Dealing with Depression in a Time of Isolation

Because We Know It’s a Tough Time

This article is a little unusual for 16Personalities. We’re happy staying in our lane of personality theory, personality research, and useful advice. If we explore depression, we are typically more aligned with talking about temporary sadness and the blues rather than something as heavy as clinical depression.

But we’re all sharing a troublesome time now as the coronavirus (COVID-19) sweeps the globe. We want to support each other the best we can. While the topic of depression is a little more clinical than we like to go, it may also be a secondary affliction that accompanies the massive changes – and perhaps even loss – many of us could face. It’s worth taking a side path and talking about the hard subject of depression. The personality type and theory material is at the beginning, and the easily-skimmed practical material is at the end, should you want to jump ahead.

Remember, throughout, that this is not a replacement for professional help, and we encourage you to contact qualified professionals if you find yourself or someone you care about dealing with depression. There are suggestions for how to do that at the end of the article.

It’s been said that depression is the “common cold” of mental health. There’s some truth in that, but as with any pithy saying, it doesn’t paint a complete picture. While depression may be as prevalent as the common cold, the comparison suggests that depression is also something trivial: take two aspirins and see how you feel in the morning. It’s not.

Some depressive feelings don’t last long and can resolve themselves without a lot of help. But often, resolving depression needs a skilled professional and some patience. This article does not pretend to be a substitute for that. We only hope to raise awareness, describe things to look for, and suggest some sources of help during this strange time of isolation.

Personality Types and Depression

Whether personality traits predispose someone to depression is up in the air. There are all kinds of models used for exploring the subject of personality and depression. Research as to whether personality traits cause or contribute to depression is varied and incomplete, with a lot of inconsistent conclusions. Researchers seem to play it safe, as they should, by talking about links rather than causes. There is much linkage, but it seems that there are fewer clear indications of a causal relationship. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

For example, it may be true that Introverts are statistically more prone to depression, but that doesn’t mean that Introversion causes depression. A statistics standard tells us that correlation doesn’t imply causation. Just because two things are statistically aligned doesn’t mean that one causes the other. It could be the other way around: depressed feelings could contribute to more Introverted behavior, since depressed people often isolate. It leaves us with a chicken-and-egg quandary: Which came first? Or there could be no cause-and-effect relationship at all. It also leaves us with an unclear relationship between personality types and depression.

However, various personality types may try to cope with depression, or symptoms of depression, in distinct ways.

Loosely speaking, an Analyst (NT) may try to outthink it. Some cognitive therapies are more or less based on doing that, and it may be a helpful strategy. But it might also prove to be a deterrent to getting help. Analysts may believe that they should be able to figure out how to get over depressed feelings without assistance. It’s only a matter of logic, right? But sometimes a more objective perspective is called for, especially when it involves emotions and Analysts. In addition, a potential sign of depression is difficulty thinking and concentrating, and there’s no reason to assume that Analysts are exempt from experiencing this when depressed.

A Diplomat (NF) may try to get in touch with their feelings and try to figure things out from that angle. That can be helpful, but only if there is structure or intentional direction for such exploration. This is perhaps something a therapist or counselor might offer. Sometimes, during an episode of depression, following one’s feelings without objective guidance or some rational structure can lead one further down the emotional rabbit hole with little or no real help coming from it.

A Sentinel (SJ) may try to find practical solutions to “fix” what they’re experiencing. While not a bad strategy, it may turn into “busy work” that keeps them from dealing with the underlying realities. They might discover that powering through is the sort of thing a depressed person cannot do. The futility of trying to muster the energy and not being able to can circle back and add to a sense of hopelessness.

An Explorer (SP) may try to distract themselves by searching for things they hope will make them feel better. But if they’re dealing with depression, they may never find anything that satisfies. Each time they try – and miss the mark – they may find that it validates the feeling that nothing is going well for them.

While our strengths are a valuable resource to lean on, they may not always be the solution, especially against enormous stressors that defy our defiance. Depression is not everyday sadness or simple grief. Sometimes it comes despite our best efforts. But there is no shame in depression, and there is help.

With Depression, Do Personality Types Matter?

There is a lot of room to speculate about personality types and depression. But it is speculation. And whether personality traits are a cause of depression may not matter in any practical sense. There may be personality-based coping skills, or there may be personality characteristics that fuel depression. But in a crisis, that’s academic. Under the right conditions, all types are susceptible to depression.

The universality of depression, regardless of personality traits, is chiefly because there are two basic types of depression, situational and major depression (and a lot of subtypes, such as seasonal depression and postpartum depression), and neither is fully under a person’s control, regardless of what approach to life they prefer.

Situational depression (which is an informal way of describing adjustment disorder with depressed mood): This is one of the more common forms of depression and usually, but not always, lasts a relatively short time. Situational depression occurs in response to some negative life event: death, divorce, job loss, illness, accident, and perhaps even a pandemic. Individuals experiencing this may find their sadness and grief to be more intense than would be expected or lasting longer than most might expect. The person’s mood also interferes with their everyday activities. Its relative brevity and its attachment to an event do not make it any less an episode of depression.

Major depressive disorder (sometimes called clinical depression): While there may not be one easy-to-identify cause, this kind of depression is likely to be more chronic, and it is thought to be a physical disorder (genes, brain chemistry, and so on). Environmental and social factors, such as family dynamics and self-esteem issues, may also contribute. A loss, a crisis, or a trauma can stir up this kind of depression, but it doesn’t need those to present itself.

So, it’s fair to say that major negative life events and genes/neurotransmitters can happen to any personality. Those independent influences suggest that all personality types are susceptible to depression under the right conditions. Fortunately, regardless of personality type, there is something that can be done about feeling depressed.

What to Look For If You Think You Are Depressed

This is not a list to be used for self-diagnosis, nor as medical advice in any form. These items are just some things to look for and, if present, they may warrant a call to someone trained to make a diagnosis and provide some help.

Talk to somebody if you experience any of these, especially if you feel that you can’t shake them or if you experience them for more than two weeks:

  • Little or no interest in activities that are usually enjoyable.
  • Sadness or a sense of emptiness.
  • A sense of hopelessness, maybe even thoughts of self-harm.
  • Trouble concentrating (reading the same page of a book again and again or not following a TV program or movie well) and/or difficulty making decisions.
  • Isolating from other people. (In this case, since greater physical isolation is required because of COVID-19, this could mean avoiding people even through video, email, telephone, or other remote communication.)
  • Sleep changes – either too much or too little.
  • Appetite changes, either not eating enough or eating too much – perhaps losing or gaining weight.
  • Lower energy; tasks that are routine suddenly feel like “too much.”
  • Feeling unusually irritable, anxious, or angry.
  • Vague aches and pains without an obvious cause.

What to Do

If you suspect that you are depressed, this is the primary thing to do:

  • Seek help from a professional, especially if anything on the above list is prolonged for more than two weeks. If you have trouble doing that yourself, perhaps you can talk to someone you trust to help you make the call or write the email. If there are any thoughts of self-harm, do not wait. Reach out immediately. (See more on contacting professionals or other sources of help during a crisis below.) This is where the real help is. The rest of this list is merely first aid.

We do not intend these suggestions to replace real professional help but rather to serve as temporary self-help measures:

  • Be honest with the people in your life about how you’re feeling. Isolating from other people, especially those who care about you, often makes the negative things you’re experiencing feel worse. Stay in touch with others and be open with them.
  • Stay calm. If you suspect that you are depressed, keep in mind that depression is very treatable, and it won’t last forever. And you’re by no means the only person dealing with these feelings.
  • Try not to feel bad about feeling bad. What you’re experiencing is real, and if you feel bad about the emotional fallout you’re experiencing, it’s likely to intensify your uneasiness. That doesn’t help. What helps is reminding yourself that you’re not doing anything wrong by having emotional pain or talking about it. There’s no blame here. Remember, you are not your depressive feelings.
  • Breathe. While it may seem like the answer given for almost every problem these days, try some breathing exercises or meditation. Instructions for these are easily found on the Internet. Such practices probably aren’t a fix for anybody’s problems, but they can help soften their impact some.
  • Practice self-care. Self-soothing even sounds nice. Bring some of it into your life – even during times of crisis. This may not be as easy as it sounds if you’re feeling stuck. So start simple. Take a long, hot bath. Wrap yourself in a blanket, and slowly enjoy a cup of herbal tea. Sit or walk outside as close to nature as you can. A little sunshine can feel delightful. Do some light exercise. Include some stretching. Give yourself a neck massage (or, if available, have someone else do it for you). If you feel overwhelmed, say no to anyone who tries to add more to your list of responsibilities when it’s possible.

What to Do If Someone You Care About Seems Depressed

If someone you care about seems depressed, there are ways you might help:

  • Don’t minimize. It’s tempting to say to someone with the signs of depression something like, “It’s not that bad,” to comfort them. This can invalidate their feelings and can lead to a sense of guilt. They may wonder what is wrong with them, that their mood remains stubbornly awful, and yet people keep telling them that everything is fine. Their depression becomes something they’ve done wrong in their thinking. That doesn’t mean that you can’t offer hope and point to a positive future. But acknowledging that their feelings are real and that they’re not the result of a character flaw can show them that you have some sense of what they’re going through. If they could just snap out of it, they likely would.
  • Encourage them to talk to a professional. If it is depression, it’s an illness. Treat it like you might any other suspected illness: get an evaluation from someone who can assess and diagnose depression. The professional may start treatment or provide a referral. If the person you care about is feeling hopeless or ashamed of their current condition, they may not have the motivation needed to make that call. Your encouragement might help. Offering to make the arrangements may help some. (We’ve listed some tips for getting help during a global crisis below.)
  • Be there for them. Obvious, right? But here are some ways you might do that:

    • Listen if they want to talk, even if it’s remotely by phone or video chat.
    • Offer to help them in any way they might need. Sometimes it’s hard for someone dealing with depression to get organized. A simple and sincere, “Is there anything I can do for you?” can mean a lot to a person feeling down.
    • Invite them to do something with you, like watch a movie or play games. They may not feel like it, so don’t be offended if they turn down the invitation. But, from your offer, they will know that you value them and that you’re interested in spending time with them. That alone can be a lot.
  • If you suspect that the person you care about is considering self-harm, treat it as a priority. Stay calm, listen to them attentively, express concern, and call for help or guidance as soon as poss ible.

Who Can You Talk To?

During this strange time of isolation and quarantine, the usual resources might not be reached as easily as during other times. Many places may still have the option of an ER if you have an emergency. Short of that, here are things to consider if you think you might be depressed and are stuck in your home:

  • Primary doctor or a general practitioner: The family doctor is often the gatekeeper for mental health services. They may start treatment and suggest psychotherapy as a complementary strategy, or they might refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist online. During a quarantine, email or telephone may be the most efficient way of reaching your physician, but that probably varies by location and healthcare system. Both email and phone may require a wait. Be patient but persistent.
  • Psychotherapists who videoconference: A cold screen is not as warm as most therapists’ offices, but it can still be an effective way to interact with a helpful professional. A therapist willing to work with you by video can usually be found through Internet searches. This link provides examples of such services in the United States. (16Personalities doesn’t endorse any of the practices found in this source, and there are far more to be found online than just these. We advise you to shop around if you can.)

    From the APA: How to Choose a Psychologist

  • Local mental health agencies: Some areas have government- or community-supported agencies that act as a clearinghouse for mental health services. They may be able to advise you of the resources available during this or other crises. Once again, an Internet search engine is useful here.
  • Telemedicine and telehealth: If you don’t have a doctor, you might try an online, long-distance medical care option for advice and perhaps even treatment. Usually, they can be found by searching the web, checking with public health agencies, or through your insurance company.
  • Online support groups: While this is probably not the first line of help you want to seek, it may be useful as your treatment advances. Peer support from people going through the same thing can be helpful. Online support groups are often free, and “meetings” may not be limited to a time schedule if their main communication is through a message board. Again, it may take a web search to find them, but it may be well worth your time.
  • Hotlines: If you feel that you are in a personal crisis and just need someone to talk to, there are also many hotlines or helplines that can support you. (These services may not be available in all regions.) You can remain anonymous if that’s your preference. Type “depression hotline” into your favorite search engine to see what’s available.
  • Suicide lifelines: This and similar telephone services will put you in touch with a caring person if you are considering self-harm. In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is perhaps the best known. Again, helplines in your area are likely to be found through a search engine.

Hope

“There’s a better day coming” can feel like an empty platitude if you’re feeling depressed. But take a moment and acknowledge that a brighter future is possible, even if you don’t feel it yet. It might only be an intellectual concept to you at this point, but that’s a start. Keep in mind, even in this time of social distancing and isolation, you are not alone. Technology is our friend in these tough times. If you feel the need to – or even want to – reach out, there’s likely somebody out there to help.

Further Reading

Threat, Stress, and Panic: Your Personality Traits Are Key to Handling Crisis

Coping When It Seems Like There’s No Good News

Asking for Help Part I: Harder for Some Personality Types than Others

Asking for Help Part II: Some Stories Personality Types Tell Themselves

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