Long COVID Impact On Mental Health

This article is sponsored by one of the fastest-growing telehealth companies in America, Antidote Health.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is slowly, but surely phasing out of the acute pandemic phase and into being endemic, it’s exceedingly important to remember that we aren’t entirely out of the woods just yet. Reduced dangers aren’t synonymous with zero dangers.

One of the most persuasive COVID dangers continuing to impact isn’t necessarily the illness itself, but rather, the illness following initial COVID infection. Interchangeably known as Post-COVID conditions, or more commonly, as long COVID, these lingering symptoms can drag on for weeks, months, and potentially years.

This post-acute disease can cause a range of unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms to stick around for the long haul, including (but certainly not limited to):

These long-haul COVID symptoms are most common amongst older adults, especially those who are unvaccinated or immunocompromised. The Government Accountability Office estimates that anywhere from 7.7 to 23+ million Americans could have contracted long COVID over the course of the pandemic. Moreover, in an April 2022 UCLA Health survey examining COVID patients, nearly 1/3rd of all respondents (30%) eventually developed long COVID. 

Medical experts are still working to understand the effects of long COVID, and how to best address them. Recent research and media coverage have started to shed more light on the mental health impacts of long COVID, as well as the physical. Here’s what you should know about the less visible harms posed by long-haul COVID, and what can be done to ameliorate them.

COVID Long-Term Mental Health Effects

You probably don’t need to be a medical researcher to understand why the last 2 and a half years have been so mentally taxing for plenty of people. COVID is simply one stressor out of many which have continued to mire the lives of millions. It likely isn’t terribly surprising that the pandemic has taken a considerable toll on collective mental health, as well as physical health.

However, you might be surprised and shocked to comprehend just how enormous and immense the pandemic’s mental health impacts have been, especially for those dealing with long-haul COVID. In the words of OHSU assistant professor Jordan Anderson, “Those who have a more serious or complex case of long COVID-19 may experience a profound sense of helplessness.”

“Depression and anxiety are how the brain responds to limitations brought on by a new health condition. The longer someone experiences a health challenge, the more a person’s mental health can decline.”

Unfortunately, long COVID cases continue to put a strain on the mental health of millions, as the debilitating chronic pain and illness symptoms associated with it can be a heavy emotional burden to bear. Long COVID patients will sometimes have their anxiety further worsened by an associated disorder known as Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (P.O.T.S.), a cardiovascular condition that can sometimes trigger panic attack-like symptoms.

A 2021 report published by the Brain & Behavior Foundation analyzing over 273,000 COVID patients unearthed some very sobering observations regarding long COVID and mental health:

  • 57% of assessed patients had one or more long COVID symptoms at some point in the 6 month period following their diagnosis
  • Nearly 1 in 4 (22%) of the assessed patients suffered anxiety and depression within the 6 months following their diagnosis
  • Long COVID cases were observed in patients of all ages, but cognitive symptoms were more commonly suffered by elderly patients
  • Worsening physical long COVID symptoms tend to worsen and compound adverse mental health symptoms
  • Women faced a slightly greater risk than men of having their mental health worsened due to long COVID

Furthermore, a separate Oregon State study determined that long COVID could increase psychiatric risks by as much as 25%. This problem further worsens the mortality of the COVID pandemic, as long COVID mental health symptoms don’t just diminish one’s quality of life - they have the potential to put one’s life at even greater risk.

One survey of a long COVID support group (see this Time article) found that almost half (45%) of the group’s members contemplated suicide due to their condition. The worst part is that these estimates of long COVID’s impact may even be conservative. Here are a few more striking data points observing long COVID’s impact on mental health.

COVID Mental Health Data

  • People with post-COVID conditions are roughly twice as likely to develop depression, anxiety, and PTSD than those without it (BMC Psychiatry)
  • Around 88% of long COVID patients were found to suffer from emotional distress in some capacity (eClinical Medicine)
  • On the whole, COVID-19 survivors face a nearly 50% greater risk of suffering from suicidal ideation than those without it (BMJ)
  • That survey mentioned in the prior section? It’s a marked 27% jump from that survey’s results in the year prior, from 18% to 45%

COVID Mental Health Helpline

Times have been hard, but if you’re struggling through long COVID symptoms, we would like to emphatically assure you that you aren’t alone in your struggles. In addition to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1800-273-8255), the Crisis Text Line (741-741), and the soon-to-launch 988 helpline, many areas have now begun to launch support hotlines specifically for COVID-19 related mental health crises.

These hotlines are being adopted by cities, states, countries, and private institutions. Rutgers University, for instance, has launched a COVID Connect helpline for people emotionally impacted by COVID-19. If you’re in crisis and emotional distress, we would encourage you to reach out to your local COVID-focused mental health crisis prevention helplines for support.

COVID Mental Health Resources

Antidote Health is geared toward all-in-one affordable telehealth coverage, making it an ideal online therapy and online doctor provider through pandemic times. But ultimately, the ideal treatment for you will be contingent upon your personal needs and priorities as a patient.

If you’re struggling with the physical and emotional impacts of long COVID, we would encourage you to seek out additional resources through our provider portal.

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Sarah Ryan
Sarah Ryan