COVID-19 is causing long-term mental health problems in some patients

A new study published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal has confirmed something that COVID-19 patients have been reporting anecdotally for months: that almost 1 in 5 COVID-19 patients have also been diagnosed with a mental illness for the first time within three months of contracting the virus. These issues include depression, anxiety, insomnia, and dementia.

The study also noted that people with existing neurological conditions, from ADHD to bipolar depression to schizophrenia, were 65 percent more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19, though this is obviously a correlation, not a causation. (My armchair diagnostic theory is that people with mental disorders are more likely to have difficulties quarantining, whether because of ongoing care, or out of fear of isolation, or because they are also dealing with poverty and possibly work jobs that don't allow them to stay home.)

This new information supports an October Rolling Stone article by Elizabeth Yuko, who shared her own experience with COVID-19 and mental illness:

Part of the reason for that, according to Dr. Laura K. Murray, a clinical psychologist and senior scientist at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, is that fatigue, decreased energy, and trouble concentrating — three conditions closely associated with long-term Covid — are all assessed in mental health screenings for conditions like anxiety and depression.

In 20 years of practicing as an infectious disease specialist, Armitage says that people who have had long-term health consequences resulting from viral infections often see an impact on their mental health, including feelings of frustration and frequently, depression. This can be particularly distressing, he explains, for people whose family members and friends don't believe they're actually sick. "The most important thing for me when treating patients who have persistent symptoms of a viral illness, is to acknowledge them and say 'it's not in your head,'" Armitage says, noting that he makes a point of validating his patients' concerns and frustrations.

Then there's also the frustration and disappointment that comes when a medical professional either dismisses your concerns completely, or simply isn't able to help. "It has been difficult when your doctors don't know what to test you for, so that they can properly treat you," Tammy says. Batenhorst has faced similar challenges with doctors. "They'll gladly charge you for a video appointment, but are they going to give you anything beyond a Z-Pak? No," she explains, based on her own experience. "It's like, 'No, I don't want your Z-Pak, I don't have a bacterial infection.'"

I've already been terrified about the long-term impacts of COVID-19 — how we know, for example, that it can lead to long-term heart damage, even if you're otherwise asymptomatic. As someone who already has a mental disorder, this further terrifies me. It also makes me more infuriated at hearing people compare it to "the flu," or hearing Donald Trump say "Don't let it consume your life" — because based on what we know so far, the symptoms of COVID-19 will very likely be consuming peoples' lives for a long, long time to come.

Bidirectional associations between COVID-19 and psychiatric disorder: retrospective cohort studies of 62 354 COVID-19 cases in the USA [Maxime Taquet, PhD; Sierra Luciano, BA; Prof John R Geddes, FRCPsych; Prof Paul J Harrison, FRCPsych / The Lancet Psychiatry]

One in five covid-19 patients are diagnosed with a mental illness within three months [Charlotte Gee / MIT Technology Review]

Life as a COVID-19 Long-Termer [Elizabeth Yuko / Rolling Stone]

Image: Quince Media / Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 4.0)