Long-Covid-19 and Mental Health
By David Brody, MD
A year and a half after the start of the global pandemic, we recognize that for many persons who developed symptomatic Covid-19 illnesses, recovery has stalled (e.g., “long-haulers”). In studies assessing Covid-19 survivors at two weeks or more after initial infection, most report at least one persistent symptom. In studies looking at individuals four weeks or longer after infection, 20 – 50% of report persistent symptoms including loss of taste and smell, breathing difficulties, fatigue, headache, and cognitive problems (e.g., “brain fog”). In recognition of this problem, many medical centers have set up specialized post-Covid treatment centers. We are still trying to grasp the full extent of the problem as well as learning how to diagnose and treat many of these persistent symptoms.
What are the mental health consequences of Covid-19 infection? Studies to date looking at Covid-19 survivors have found significant numbers of individuals reporting anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress symptoms. It appears that psychiatric disorders can be diagnosed in about 20% of survivors. Most of these individuals are likely experiencing the return or recurrence of previously diagnosed disorders; it is estimated that only 5% of post-Covid psychiatric disorders are new diagnoses. There is no evidence that Covid-19 is a specific risk factor for symptoms of bipolar disorder. And rates of suicide in high and middle-income countries either did not change or declined during the pandemic.
In sum, a significant number of individuals infected with the Covid-19 virus have a protracted course of illness, with clear impacts on mental health. As more studies are published, we will develop a more nuanced understanding of how to screen Covid-19 survivors for psychiatric disorders as well as how to select the most effective treatments. I will delve into these issues in more detail in my September 9, 2021 lecture.
Dr Brody is a medical advisor to and a Board member of MDSG. Particulars about his lecture will appear on the MDSG website.