low-grade depression
Coronavirus Mind & Body

Michelle Obama Says She Has Low-Grade Depression

Michelle Obama admits she’s suffering from low-grade depression.

“I’m waking up in the middle of the night because I’m worrying about something or there’s a heaviness,” Obama told journalist Michele Norris on The Michelle Obama Podcast. “I try to make sure I get a workout in, although there have been periods throughout this quarantine where I just have felt too low.”

She joins the ranks of many of us during these trying times. A Census Bureau survey found 1 in 3 Americans are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, more than three times the rate of a similar survey from a year ago. The difference this year? The coronavirus pandemic.

The lockdown and frustration with people who won’t wear masks contributed to Obama’s depression. “There’s almost like there’s a limit to our sacrifice and it was about a month, and then we just got tired of the virus,” she said. “That’s been disheartening to see so many people who have grown tired of staying at home because the virus didn’t impact them.” 

But COVID-19 isn’t the only thing weighing heavy on Obama’s mind. She also talked about race relations in this country since the late May death of George Floyd. 

It’s “exhausting” to be “waking up to yet another story of a Black man or a Black person somehow being dehumanized, or hurt, or killed, or falsely accused of something,” she said.

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The former First Lady said she’s coping with self-care, staying connected with loved ones and taking a social media break. “I gotta feed myself with something better. And sometimes for me that means turning it off,” she said. “It means turning off the phone, not taking in the news, because it is negative energy.”

Mental health experts believe Obama’s honesty could help others struggling with emotional well-being.

“These are particularly challenging times for everyone. Anyone who isn’t anxious or upset about what’s going on on the planet isn’t paying attention,” Victor Fornari, M.D., a psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in New York City, said in an interview with USA Today. ”When Michelle Obama shares she is mildly depressed by it, it’s completely understandable. I have heard from so many people they are worried and being upset about the circumstances the pandemic has created.”

Low-grade depression isn’t an official diagnosis, though symptoms—loss of interest in activities, sadness, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, irritability—are similar to those of clinical depression.

“I applaud Michelle Obama for her leadership and courage in sharing the personal story of her depression,” Dr. Fornari said. “Mrs. Obama is a powerful champion for positive social change. During these unprecedented times, heightened anxiety and depressed mood have been quite prevalent. The COVID-19 pandemic has been the source of enormous stress for everyone. Through the brave self-disclosures of prominent individuals like Mrs. Obama, it is hoped others will seek care and not feel embarrassed or ashamed of their emotional struggles. This self-disclosure will help reduce the stigma often associated with mental illness.”

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