COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Depression is on the rise nationally and Columbus is no exception. Representatives of local mental health services reported seeing increased depression locally and reflected on the impact of the pandemic, as well as area-specific concerns.

“We have seen, just like with the national rates rising, local rates are rising,” said New Horizons Behavioral Health COO Denise Wade McLeod. She elaborated it seems local rates of depression follow the trend, however New Horizons has not seen an increase in patients seeking care for depression.

She emphasized depression is a larger health issue, as depression impacts people’s functionality and well-being.

McLeod said, “I just want to set the stage in that our mental health is important, because there is no health without mental health.”

According to Thomas Waynick, CEO at the mental health service the Pastoral Institute, depression rates were also worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. He explained children and families were forced into unprecedented amounts of social isolation and time quarantined together which impacted moods.

A post-pandemic study indicated 61 percent of young adults in America reported high levels of loneliness, with a similar statistic for mothers with young children at 51 percent. Waynick also said his practice also saw increased tension in relationships.

Additionally, Columbus’ population has a minority majority. Results from Gallup’s 2023 data collection revealed 34.4 percent of Black adults and 31.3 percent of Hispanic adults reported a diagnosis of depression during their lifetimes compared to 29 percent of White adults.

“Depression rates [are]…higher among females, among almost all minorities, including the LGBT community,” said Waynick.

He detailed how economic stressors during the pandemic could play a role in higher anxiety and depression rates amongst those struggling with social issues which disproportionately impact minority communities, such as food insecurity.

Less time in-person during COVID also meant more time online. According to Waynick, children today are experiencing depression and using self-harm behaviors at younger ages than ever. Part of this, he said, is due to social media, which can expose children to what he called “life’s difficulties” at much younger ages and also leaves them vulnerable to online harassment.

The CEO said his practice has seen children as young as four cutting or using other self-harm behaviors.

According to the American Psychological Association, about 1.3% of children aged 5 to 10 engage in self-harm behaviors, with significant rises depending on levels of anxiety or chronic mental distress.

He said, “In my generation if someone was bullying you, you could run home and shut the door of your house; today, because of cell phones and computers, you can actually be bullied 24/7.”

With many military members, veterans and their families living in Columbus due to its proximity to the newly redesignated Fort Moore (formerly Fort Benning), Waynick said there is an additional need for mental health services.

“We have a population that has seen the horrors of war, the trauma of war, and so some of those will need help in processing that stuff,” said Waynick who ran family counselling at Fort Moore from 2004 to 2009 after serving in Iraq in 2003.

Waynick explained he served as chaplain for 35 years before retiring out of the Army and said the loss and trauma within the military community undoubtedly produces depression.

According to McLeod, separation with deployments can also cause depression. She also noted there is sometimes stigma surrounding the treatment of mental illnesses within the military, which she said is also reflected in the community at large.

“I think everybody’s at risk for depression,” said McLeod, who added that the pandemic has brought increased awareness of mental health issues.

She advised those experiencing symptoms such as deep sadness or a disinterest in activities which they usually enjoy longer than two weeks should seek out professional help.

In a crisis situation, McLeod told people to call the Suicide and Crisis Lifelife at 988 or dial GCAL which is the state of Georgia’s crisis line.