COVID-19 continues to threaten public health, and not just from new infections. Some people who have recovered from the disease are experiencing after effects, known as “long-haul” COVID-19. Anyone who becomes infected can suffer from it, regardless of the severity of their symptoms.
Long-haul or post-acute COVID-19 consists of new, recurring or ongoing symptoms occurring more than four weeks after infection and initial recovery.1 The signs vary from mild to severe. While there is more to learn, a variety of physical and mental health symptoms have emerged.
COVID-19 and Mental Health
A study of COVID-19 survivors showed that one in three have had neurological and psychiatric problems since they were infected. Thirty-four percent of those patients were diagnosed within six months after they caught the virus. Among mental health issues, anxiety, mood disorders, substance abuse disorders and insomnia were the most common. Many of the patients studied had severe forms of COVID-19, which required hospitalization.2 Another study of about 1 million COVID-19 sufferers, found that after initial recovery, twenty-three percent experienced anxiety, depression, or adjustment or tic disorders.3
Though rare, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research reveals that post-COVID-19 psychosis can occur in people without a history of psychiatric disorders.4 The symptoms have varied, and include suicidal thoughts, mood swings, and hearing voices. These don’t seem like typical side effects from a respiratory condition, but experts believe other viruses have caused similar symptoms.
Among the potential causes of long-haul COVID-19, the virus’s “spike protein” could be modifying genes to interact directly with human cells to create long-haul symptoms.5 Inflammation from the immune system’s response to the infection and toxicity in infected tissue, such as the lungs, have also been identified.6 In psychosis cases, the virus may be penetrating the blood-brain barrier, leading to changes in brain chemistry.
Mental health issues in long-haul COVID-19 patients can form on their own or through long-lasting physical effects from the disease; the virus may also worsen pre-existing mental health conditions.
Psychological Effects from Physical Symptoms
COVID-19 can damage major organs such as the lungs, heart, kidney and brain. Some studies show that about 50 to 80 percent of coronavirus patients continued to feel ill up to three months after they were first diagnosed. Lingering physical effects from the virus include chronic fatigue, “brain fog,” and seizures.7 Suffering from long-term COVID-19 symptoms has been linked to suicide, severe depression and anxiety.8
Experts suggest COVID-19 survivors are at a higher risk for suicide and should be screened for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions.
More research is needed to fully understand the long-haul impacts from COVID-19. With more knowledge there will undoubtedly be more options for effective treatment. In the meantime, if you are experiencing long-haul symptoms, it is important to let your caregivers know. Because this phenomenon is so new, some caregivers may not be fully aware of its impact, but should know to not only provide better care for you but also those similarly afflicted.
If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues, we’re here for you. We offer tele-mental health and other services. Contact us today. Need help now? Call our 24-hour Crisis Hotline: (518) 483-3261 or (518) 891-5535.