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Long COVID and Depression

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on September 30, 2022

Experts continue to study the lasting effects of COVID-19 on your health. They found that depression is common in long COVID. That refers to long-term effects you can have after a COVID infection. And research shows that depression can get worse over time.

How Are Long COVID and Depression Related?

Eight million to 23 million people in the U.S. have gotten long COVID symptoms after COVID-19.

Lasting side effects can include brain fog, fatigue, shortness of breath, pain in your muscles and joints, sleep issues, heart palpitations, or changes in your mood.

These symptoms can affect your daily life. Some people have found they need to adjust their work hours, or take time off work, because of intense sleepiness or brain fog. A study looked at 4,000 people with long COVID symptoms. Experts found that almost half of them had to shorten their work hours because of health issues it caused.

But changes in your work schedule can impact your health insurance. This can make it harder for you to get the best care for your long COVID symptoms. Your side effects could also change your child care, exercise, and social schedules.

With health problems from long COVID, isolation at home, and constant changes to your routine, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. All these changes can cause you to have mental health issues like depression.

One study looked at the health records of over 200,000 people who’ve had COVID-19. Researchers found that within 6 months of their infection, a third of them had some sort of neurological or psychological condition, including depression.

When you have a new health condition that keeps you from doing things you used to, depression is one way your brain might respond. If your activities are limited for a while, your depression may get worse. This means that if your symptoms of long COVID linger, your depression will likely also stick around.

Many people who got COVID-19 in 2020 are still unwell. Because of long COVID, they’ve not only had to deal with physical issues, but also mental health problems.

Who’s Most at Risk for Long COVID and Depression?

Long COVID and depression can affect anyone. But some groups may be at a higher risk than others.

Experts need to do more studies to understand why certain people have worse cases of long COVID, but many believe there are some specific risk factors. You may be at a higher chance of depression from long COVID if you:

  • Had a more severe case of COVID-19
  • Are female
  • Have any other health conditions (such as high blood pressure or asthma)
  • Have other mental health conditions
  • Have a higher amount of inflammatory markers in your body
  • Didn’t get a COVID-19 vaccine
  • Are older
  • Have obesity

But doctors still find that indirect issues from the pandemic are linked the most to long COVID depression. This means that things like financial troubles, health concerns, and social isolation from COVID-19 probably have caused most cases of post-COVID depression.

Does Existing Depression Affect Long COVID?

If you already have depression, you may wonder how long COVID and your mental health affect each other. Experts found that if you had depression before you were diagnosed with COVID-19, you’re at higher risk for physical and emotional long COVID symptoms.

Existing depression is also linked to more severe illness with COVID-19 and a higher chance of hospitalization. What’s more, one of the risk factors for long COVID is hospitalization. So, if you already have depression, you’re more likely to go to the hospital if you catch COVID, which then puts you at a higher risk for long COVID.

How to Get Help With Long COVID Depression

There’s no known cure for long COVID. But if you have depression related to it, talk to your doctor to find ways to treat it. They can help you understand your depression and why you may have gotten it.

Your doctor can suggest ways to improve your mental health. Some options might include:

Treatment of other long COVID symptoms. Your depression may partly stem from your other symptoms of long COVID. These physical and mental side effects can be different for everyone. But in order to address your depression, it’s important that you treat other symptoms, too.

Your doctor may suggest you take steroids or anti-inflammatory medications, based on your needs, for your physical problems from long COVID. Your doctor may also suggest meds to treat your depression.

Psychological treatment. You can address your long COVID depression through:

  • Trauma therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help you create healthier routines
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which can help you cope with your feelings about long COVID

Support from the community. Group therapy and communication with your peers can remind you that you aren’t alone. If you have long COVID, it’s common to have depression too.

It might help you to talk to others and share how long COVID has affected you. Support groups can be a great way to learn about long COVID’s impact on your mental health and find ways to cope with your depression.

More research is needed to understand the mental health impacts of long COVID. But if more conversations happen about depression and long COVID, more solutions are likely.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

The Lancet: “Acute COVID-19 severity and mental health morbidity trajectories in patient populations of six nations: an observational study.”

Journal of Neurological Sciences: “Mid and long-term neurological and neuropsychiatric manifestations of post-COVID-19 syndrome: A meta-analysis.”

CDC: “Long COVID or Post-COVID Conditions.”

U.S. Government Accountability Office: “Science & Tech Spotlight: Long COVID.”

JAMA Psychiatry: “Associations of Depression, Anxiety, Worry, Perceived Stress, and Loneliness Prior to Infection With Risk of Post-COVID-19 Conditions.”

Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine: “Long COVID and neuropsychiatric manifestations (Review).”

The Harvard Gazette: “Psychological, not physical factors linked to long COVID.”

Oregon Health and Science University: “Mental health struggles take toll on people suffering long COVID.”

Neurotherapeutics: “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: A Transdiagnostic Behavioral Intervention for Mental Health and Medical Conditions.”

Frontiers in Public Health: “Treating Psychological Trauma in the Midst of COVID-19: The Role of Smartphone Apps.”

Frontiers in Psychiatry: “The Effect of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on Depression, Anxiety, and Stress in Patients With COVID-19: A Randomized Controlled Trial.”

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