Just not felt yourself since a case of Covid-19, or been diagnosed with ‘long Covid’? And now have mental health issues?
In July 2021 Britain’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported 1.5 per cent of the population were claiming long Covid symptoms.
Covid and mental health
Physical illness has long been connected to mental health issues, so in one way, this is not a surprising situation. Research suggests that around 10 per cent of patients in primary care suffer from depression, for example. And conditions with similarities to Covid, like influenza and respiratory tract infections, have long been been known to lead to psychiatric and neurological diagnoses.
What is concerning is the sheer rate of people reporting mental health issues post Covid.
The statistics about Covid and mental health
A landmark research paper published in April 2021 looked at medical records of over 230 thousand Americans. It concluded that:
- Just over 30 per cent had a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis within six months of having Covid-19.
- For 12 per cent of these patients, it was their first such diagnosis.
- If a patient had been hospitalised or admitted to intensive care, those statistics rose to 46 per cent.
- Neurological and psychiatric diagnoses were more likely to follow Covid than influenza and respiratory tract infections.
- The worse the Covid infection, the higher the chance in general of a mental health diagnosis.
- Patients who experienced delirium or altered mental states during Covid had higher rates of mental health issues in the six months to follow.
So I have a one in three chance of mental health issues post Covid?
No. The study results are intimidating, but need to be taken with a grain of salt. The statistics are drawn from electronic health records of American patients who had gone to their doctor or to a hospital.
This can’t account for the many people with Covid who didn’t go to their doctor. These numbers might be quite substantial, and significantly lower the above statistics, given that America does not provide a free health system to all like we have in the UK.
A previous American study using data from one hospital only put the risk of depression or PTSD at only one in 10, becoming a higher risk in those who already had mental health issues before contracting Covid-19. Of course ten per cent is still substantial and of concern to scientists.
What mental health issues are we talking about here?
The study mentions:
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) wasn’t covered by this particular study. But it’s worth noting it’s also being reported by those who lived through severe symptoms or were hospitalised. And data put together after the SARS outbreak of 2002, a somewhat similar situation, found that 33 per cent of survivors reported PTSD-like symptoms.
Medical symptom, or stress related?
Medical symptoms that can form part of a serious case of Covid and then create mental health symptoms include brain haemorrhages and strokes.
But just because you didn’t have such a medical issue doesn’t mean you should overlook mental health symptoms. They can also come from the stress of a diagnosis. The researchers explain that:
the level of mental health issues “reflects, at least partly, the psychological and other implications of a Covid-19 diagnosis rather than being a direct manifestation of the illness.”
Long Covid, depression, and anxiety
The NHS officially recognises depression and anxiety as symptoms on their webpage about long Covid.
With long Covid, there can feel more to be anxious about than with other illnesses, as so much is still unknown, such as when (or if) symptoms will stop. Anything unknown can cause fear. And fearful thinking is a root cause of anxiety.
Poor sleep is also a common symptom reported by those with long Covid, and this, too, can contribute to mental health issues. The UK’s Mental Health Foundation reports that 48 per cent of British adults with sleep problems feel it affects their mental health.
It’s okay to not feel yourself after Covid
Instead of feeling ashamed for feeling depressed or anxious post Covid, remember that you are navigating a lot. It’s not surprising to feel overwhelmed, given that:
- having Covid can feel out of control and scary
- we can be reminded of our own mortality or facing it for the first time
- sickness can increase negative thinking such as thinking we are ‘unlucky‘ or ‘doomed’
- or leave you feeling alone if others you know didn’t suffer the way you did or understand
- it can exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues, or trigger ones we thought we were over
- our career and relationships can suffer, further affecting mental wellbeing.
What should I do if I think I now have a mental health issue?
In summary, long Covid is a vulnerable time, and the best thing we can do is offer ourselves self-compassion and seek help and support.
There are many self-help tools available for mental health that do work. Self-help books and online courses for anxiety and depression are worthwhile, and online forums can help you feel less alone. Tools like journaling and mindfulness are shown to improve moods, and self-care is also helpful. It’s important to eat well, exercise, and learn how to say no and create space for yourself to recover.
But if your mental health issues are affecting your ability to cope on a daily basis, or are in any way leading to self destructive habits or thoughts? It’s important to seek proper support. A counsellor or psychotherapist can really help you to feel more hopeful and less alone, and provide you with tools to manage better and realign your thinking. If you are on a low budget, read our article on how to find free to low cost therapy.
Long Covid left you depressed or anxious? We connect you with friendly, truly expert therapists in central London who take your issues seriously. Or use our booking platform to find UK-wide registered therapists for all budgets.
Still have a question about long Covid and mental health, or want to share your story about it with other readers? Post below. All comments moderated to respect our readers.