Doctors are still largely baffled by the long COVID syndrome, especially why some people get it after COVID-19 but not others. A recent study discovered a connection between having specific mental health issues and acquiring lengthy COVID.
Researchers at Harvard University conducted the study, which was reported in JAMA, and reviewed survey responses from approximately 55,000 participants between April 2020 and November 2021. More than 3,000 of those individuals claimed to have COVID-19, and of those, roughly 1,400 claimed to have lengthy COVID.
The researchers discovered that those who reported experiencing psychological stressors prior to being ill—such as stress, anxiety, sadness, and feelings of loneliness or fear about the virus—had a 32% to 46% higher risk of developing protracted COVID than those who indicated they did not. A 50% increased risk was associated with people who disclosed having high levels of multiple of those emotions.
Why can mental health stressors like anxiety, sadness, and others increase your chance of long-term COVID development?
Unfortunately, the study didn’t investigate this; it merely made the connection. There are several theories, though.
According to Dr. Wang, having depression, anxiety, and high levels of stress and concern can lead to more inflammation in the body and impaired immune function, which increases your risk of being sick.
To Dr. Wang, there is evidence that some persons who have mental health issues occasionally generate autoantibodies that have likewise been linked to an increased risk of lengthy COVID. According to Dr. Wang, depression “affects the brain in ways that may explain specific cognitive deficits in protracted COVID.”
According to Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an infectious disease expert, this study confirms the association between lengthy COVID and pre-existing psychiatric problems that has been shown by earlier research. There are still a lot of unknowns, he claims. He notes that the physiological mechanism underlying this association’s operation is still unknown.
What is long COVID?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, long COVID, also known as post-COVID problems, is a catch-all name for a variety of new, recurring, or ongoing health difficulties patients have after contracting COVID-19. The CDC states that at least four weeks must elapse after infection before a person may be identified with protracted COVID because most patients with COVID-19 recover within a few days or weeks.
Many symptoms are present in post-COVID conditions, and the CDC states that a person with a long COVID may experience one or more of the following:
- Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life
- Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Brain fog
- Sleep problems
- Pins-and-needles feelings
- Change in smell or taste
- Depression or anxiety
- Stomach pain
- Joint or muscle pain
- Changes in menstrual cycles
How to reduce your risk of COVID for a long time?
The following individuals, according to the CDC, are more prone to have lengthy COVID:
- People who have experienced more severe COVID-19, especially those who were hospitalized or needed intensive care
- People who had underlying health conditions before they developed COVID-19
- People who did not get a COVID-19 vaccine
- People who experienced multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) during or after they had COVID-19
But according to Dr. Wang, her findings “indicate that psychological health should be taken into account in addition to physical health as risk factors of extended COVID-19.”
According to Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, doing your best to maintain overall health, including eating a healthy diet, exercising frequently, and getting your COVID-19 vaccine, can help lower your risk of developing long COVID. He claims that the mental health component is also crucial. Dr. Russo thinks that there is a clear need for increased attention to mental health. “It’s crucial for healthcare professionals and support staff to speak with patients in order to understand where they are at and to assist them in receiving the right care,” the statement reads.
Although Depression is not yet apparent whether receiving treatment for mental health issues may reduce your risk of developing long-term COVID, doctors emphasize how vital it is to look after your mental health now and always. “We need to raise the general public’s knowledge of the value of mental health and concentrate on providing those who require it with care, expanding the number of mental health clinicians available, and enhancing access to care,” adds Dr. Wang.