October 21, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 48—Winter blues, and temperature checks

The winter months bring a lot of changes, including shorter days, more holiday gatherings and for some, an uptick in depression. With COVID-19 continuing to stress American families, experts say the pandemic may make mental health issues worse this winter. In fact, Kevin Rand, a psychology professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, says the pandemic could create a perfect storm that will give rise to clinical levels of depression and anxiety, even for people with no prior mental health issues. Shelley Johns, a researcher at the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis, a clinical psychologist and an associate professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, has seen an increase in depression and anxiety in her patients since the pandemic began. For many, Johns says, the stress of the pandemic has become chronic and there is still no end in sight. There is also concern about seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer. Rand says he expects anybody who experiences seasonal depressive symptoms is going to feel it even more this year. But there are things people can do to help combat these depression issues. Johns says it is important for people to be proactive with their mental health and find coping mechanisms that work for them. Get an appropriate amount of sleep, stay involved in social activities, even if it has to be socially distanced or online, and make sure that you're moving your body and getting out in the sunlight as much as you can. People can also purchase special light boxes to help them get through seasonal depression. If someone’s depression or anxiety is severe, Rand says they should contact a health professional. But the most important thing for people who struggle with mental health during the colder months, he says, is to remember spring will eventually come. Accepting that you're going to probably feel worse this winter than in previous winters, Rand says, is hard, but it will be temporary, and it will get better, he says.

The pandemic has brought about many changes to our lives, including the steps we go through when out in public, such as temperature checks. In fact, many schools, businesses and other public entities have made temperature checks a regular requirement when entering a building. But are they effective? Natalie Lambert, an associate research professor at Indiana University School of Medicine, surveyed nearly 4,000 people who had COVID-19. The results found only 7.7 percent of survey respondents reported having a fever within the first 10 days of having COVID-19. Considering that 40% of people who have COVID-19 are asymptomatic, this means only an estimated 4.6% of all people with COVID-19 are likely to have a fever while they are contagious. Instead, the more common early-onset symptoms were fatigue, cough, headache, and difficulty breathing. While research about hospitalized patients shows a vast majority of them did have a fever early on, Lambert says most of her study participants were not hospitalized, and most of them did not have a fever during the first 10 days, when they're contagious. Therefore, we need to do more research on COVID-19 survivors who were not hospitalized, Lambert says. The study, she says, shows we cannot use fever checks anymore with confidence that we're stopping the spread of COVID-19. A more effective way to slow the spread, Lambert says, is rapid and accurate COVID-19 testing.