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Health Team

Her life was turned upside down by coronavirus. Then the signs of anxiety and depression kicked in

Posted June 26, 2020 3:21 p.m. EDT

— Visaysha Harris had big plans when the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States. Her college graduation and a move to New York were about to mark the beginning of her new life.

Instead, the 22-year-old has been mostly isolated at her mother's home in Gwinnett County, Georgia, while facing an unexpected toll on her mental health.

"The end of March, beginning of April, I stayed in my room," Harris told CNN. "My body just wasn't processing my new normal. I was sad, I was depressed. I just felt so terrible about everything that was going on."

More than a third of Americans have been experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey by the National Center for Health Statistics and the US Census Bureau.

People between 18 and 29 years old, like Harris, have been feeling the most anxious and depressed, the survey shows.

For Dr. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, the pandemic has been "an assault on everyone's mental health," but young people have more challenges.

"They haven't had an opportunity to solve problems and be resilient because they don't know how to get through some of these issues," Small said. "You have worries about your future, your career, establishing relationships."

"And I think the uncertainty that the virus presents really adds insult to injury," he added.

Harris had to move out of her dorm at Georgia State University and take the last of her college classes online. The sudden transition, she says, led her to stop sharing her emotions and not open up with others about her feelings. Harris said she has not been medically diagnosed and is not getting professional help.

To cope with her symptoms, Harris says she's pushed herself to talk with family members, exercised more, and stepped back from watching TV and being on social media.

Another thing that can help address both the virus and the anxiety of this pandemic is wearing a mask while in public, said Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent.

"It's a way to show that you are less likely to infect someone else and a reminder that we are all in this together," Gupta said.

While not all feelings of anxiety translate into long-term conditions, Small says the stress could impact the immune system, which is key to fighting Covid-19.

"So it's clear that there is a connection between our minds and our bodies," Small said. "And if we heal our minds, it will fortify our bodies."

Harris knows that her life might not return to normal or she might not move to New York yet, but for now, she's excited to start working remotely this summer.

"That's the one thing that has stayed consistent and I'm very excited about," she said.

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