An article on the Medscape website discussed a recent study published in the Lancet which found that 62% of patients with long Covid had received either a neurologic or a psychological diagnosis such as high rates of depression and anxiety, 6 months after being diagnosed with acute COVID. It’s a surprising finding that shows that those with long COVID may experience more mental distress than people with other chronic illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Anna Dickerman a psychiatrist and associate professor of clinical psychiatry explains that mental health issues associated with long COVID have biological, psychological and social components. Brain inflammation from long COVID disrupts biology and increases depression/anxiety risks. Resulting mental health changes then raise risks of social impacts like job loss that can worsen mental distress.
Severe initial COVID can also damage the brain through oxygen deprivation, causing both acute cognitive effects like delirium and long-term attention/awareness deficits. This compounds mental health struggles. Both inflammation and oxygen loss alter brain biology.
By identifying these interconnected biological, psychological and social drivers of mental distress in long COVID patients, Dr. Dickerman aims to improve treatment approaches. Her team seeks to address this “perfect storm” to aid patient mental health recovery.
Long COVID patients with pre-existing mental health conditions are at higher risk for anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, which can be compounded by symptoms like pain and insomnia. Social factors like financial stress and isolation also contribute. Rates of completed suicide need more research but risks are heightened.
Minority groups may be disproportionately impacted by mental health issues due to social determinants like discrimination, poverty and healthcare access barriers. The pandemic has caused a broader mental health epidemic, regardless of COVID status.
Treatment involves evidence-based approaches like antidepressants and CBT. Experts recommend gradual increased physical activity for some. More research is needed to better target treatments. Interdisciplinary care between mental health and medical providers is key to holistically addressing interconnected issues.
The full article, with Q & A, can read on the Medscape website.