Depression rates have doubled during the Covid pandemic - what to look out for and what can you do to help?

ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports on the rising rates of depression among younger adults

Rates of depression have more than doubled since before the coronavirus pandemic, yet despite this fewer people than ever have been seeking help from their GP.

Just over a fifth of people in Britain experienced some form of depression between January 27 and March 7 2021, more than double the pre-pandemic figure, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The impact was felt more greatly in younger adults, women and people who live alone - with 43% of women aged between 16 to 29 reporting some form of depression.

The ONS also said on Wednesday during the first stage of the pandemic between March 23 and August 31 2020 there was almost a 30% drop in the number of people being diagnosed with depression by their GP compared to 2019.

Theodore Joloza, Principal Research Officer for the ONS, said while GP diagnoses have fallen self-reporting of depression has increased, adding: "The picture is one of a rising toll on mental health, with many people not necessarily accessing medical help."

At times like these, it is more important than ever to make sure the people around you are doing OK - just because a doctor has not diagnosed it does not mean everything is fine.

What are the signs someone is suffering from depression?

The mental health charity Mind says depression is a low mood that last for a long time and affects everyday life.

In its mildest form, it can just mean feeling low for an extended period of time, meaning you can live a normal life but everything seems harder to do and less worthwhile.

At its most severe, depression can be life-threatening and lead to suicidal thoughts.

The NHS lists eight symptoms for depression that people close to someone who they suspect is feeling low may notice.

They are:

  • The person has lost interest in doing things they normally enjoy

  • Seems to be feeling down or hopeless

  • Has slower speech and movements or is more fidgety and restless than usual

  • Feels tired or does not have much energy

  • Is overeating or has lost their appetite

  • Is sleeping more than usual or is not able to sleep

  • Has trouble concentrating on everyday things

People who are depressed also often withdraw themselves from their social circles, making excuses not to attend events, or just not showing up at all.

People who have depression often feel worthless and do not believe they deserve help, and so their own illness can prevent them from getting the help they need.

Mind says regular communication is vital, not only to keep an eye out for symptoms but also to provide reassurance others do care.

How can you help if you think someone is suffering from depression?

While there has been a lot of focus by government and society on mental health in recent years, many still haven't accepted it's OK to reach out.

During the height of the first lockdown, many people stayed away from their GP and other medical facilities over the fear of catching Covid and not wanting to unduly burden the strained health system.

The NHS was also unable to refer many people to mental health services when they requested them due to staff being redeployed to deal with the Covid pandemic.

Where can you go to get help?

The NHS and several charities across the UK offer various resources and helplines for people who need help and for people who think someone they care about needs support.

  • Mind has a helpline on 0300 123 3393.

  • The Samaritans, which helps people who feel suicidal can be contacted on 116 123.

  • YoungMinds who support young people with mental health issues can be contacted on 0808 802 5544.

  • The NHS has a resource page offering various routes to support here.

This has left many people who need help not accessing it, but those around them can do a lot to ensure they can get support.

Mind says you can't force anyone to get help, but you can support them in getting it.

Often one of the best ways to do this is to be open about depression, discuss it with them, share previous experiences and how support helped you or someone you know in the past.

Contextualising a world where it is all right to be depressed, to recognise it is an illness, and for that illness to need medical attention in order to cure is a key first step to helping someone on their road to recovery.

Minister for Mental Health, Nadine Dorries, said: “Living under social restrictions has been challenging for many of us. While the British public has shown great resilience during these difficult and unsettling times, I am acutely aware many people have, understandably, felt low, anxious, lonely or had a pre-existing condition exacerbated.

“I remain absolutely committed to supporting the mental wellbeing of everyone and tackling health inequalities.”

Dr Will Klinkenberg explains why talking to a GP can make the difference

One of the worst things to do is to be critical, talking away their problems and offering solutions they are unable to access at this time.

Another mistake is offering too much help. Often the immediate reaction of a friend or family member wanting to help someone they care about who is struggling is to try to take burdensome tasks off their hands.

While helping out with some jobs can be useful, leaving a person without anything to do could do more harm than good.

South West mental health organisation Second Step is running a pilot in 12 GP surgeries in inner city Bristol, are offering non-medicalised support to help people find solutions to their mental health problems. Sharon Matthews, one of Second Step's patients, says the Wellbeing College has saved her life:

Ultimately, everyone will be different and you will know your friends and family best, but if you believe they are suffering from depression the best first step is helping them accept they need help and then encouraging them to find it.

You should also remember to take care of yourself, dealing with a close one's illness can be hard for anyone, mental illness is no different.