The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the deaths of over 5.7 million people worldwide, caused over 110 million to lose their jobs and many many more are still suffering from other long-lasting effects. A study from The Lancet Psychiatry reports that one-third of all COVID-19 patients have now been diagnosed with either psychological or neurological symptoms.
Many families have faced permanent changes and challenges due to death, mental illness, breakdown of relationships, financial hardships, and addiction. Although COVID-19 is now slowing down, and it is not as prevalent in society as it was a year ago the ripple effects that this virus has caused will undoubtedly last longer than COVID-19 itself.
So, what is Long COVID?
For many, the symptoms of mild and moderate COVID-19 pass within a few days or weeks, but for some the effects caused by the onset of the virus can last for weeks or months. This is long COVID. Experiences of long COVID can vary greatly from person to person. Some people will only have one symptom, but others may have many. How bad your symptoms are can vary and long COVID can also affect your mental health.
“As we enter the third year of the pandemic, increased clinical vigilance of adverse mental health among the proportion of patients with a severe acute disease of Covid-19 and follow-up studies beyond the first year after infections are critical to ensure timely access to care.”
Professor Unnur Anna Valdimarsdóttir, from the University of Iceland
So is long COVID a mental health condition?
In short terms, the answer is no: long COVID is not yet recognised as a mental health condition; however, instead it is looked at as a chronic health condition that takes on many mental health symptoms. People who are experiencing long COVID may often experience one or more of the following:
- Extreme tiredness
- Shortness of breath
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Difficulty sleeping
- Heart palpitations
- Pins and needles or joint pain
- Depression and anxiety
The type of symptoms you may suffer now, or in the future and the severity of those symptoms may alter over time and the NHS advise that the long COVID symptoms do not seem to be linked to how severe your COVID illness was, when you first had it or if you have had it a number of times.
How could long COVID affect my mental health?
Can it affect my mental health?
Physical health conditions often lead to a downturn in mental health due to the pressure it puts on your body and affects your daily life. Long COVID may lead to symptoms of anxiety or low mood, for example. Some studies show that about 1 in 4 people who experience long COVID develop a mental health issue.
Long COVID might also affect your ability to work, or at least work in the same position prior to contracting COVID or your quality of life. Many people are becoming anxious about just how long these long COVID symptoms may last or when, if ever they can get back to their normal way of life that was pre-COVID.
Are there any longer-term mental health issues?
Experts believe that there may be several mental health issues connected directly to the Covid-19 pandemic that could last in the longer term with obsessive-compulsive disorder could be one of the main candidates.
Anxiety about returning to a normal way of life is also expected to be prevalent among those who suffered the effects of Covid-19 from those that were in the high risk category and had to isolate for a longer term, plus those that suffered severely from the virus and are still experiencing the after effects of it. Anxiety about returning to work, if relationships have broken down or how to improve their financial situation due to job changes or redundancy may become apparent in our society as wider global struggles add to the complexities of returning to a normal way of life.
Chronic loneliness is another major concern. Covid-19 may have bought on social isolation or “a lack of meaning” in life. Some people have involuntarily found themselves with fewer close connections in the age of social-distancing and may find it challenging to rebuild their networks.
Others may have withdrawn from the outside world to feel ‘safe’ and remove themselves from the risk of catching a virus and may now be resistance to increasing their social interactions in the future
Ongoing unemployment or loss of income (caused by the knock-on economic effects of the pandemic) may affect long-term wellbeing as well.
Despite these ongoing concerns about the longer-term impact in mental health and the challenges the pandemic has bought to our lives, it is important to recognise there are some positive takeaways, too.
The pandemic highlighted the sense of community we have within us, bringing people from all backgrounds and ages together to help those in need and may have led to new relationships being formed.
The experience of lockdown may have also helped reduce anxiety levels or stop panic attacks among some who had high levels of stress in the outside world before the pandemic. This is because they felt a greater sense of freedom and safety by spending more hours at home.
Hope Therapy regularly work with people with associated effects of this condition. We have further articles on the effects and the support available: Covid Archives – Hope Therapy and Counselling Services (hopefulminds.co.uk)