Stress, Depression, and Anxiety Linked to Higher Risk of Developing Long Covid, Study Shows

A recent study demonstrates the link between lengthy COVID development and pre-existing mental health issues.

Study: Stress, Depression, and Anxiety Increase the Risk of Long-Term Coronary Artery Disease

According to a new study, people who experienced stress, anxiety, loneliness, depression, or worry about COVID-19 before contracting the illness were more likely to experience long-term symptoms of their illness.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Siwen Wang, MD, a research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said, “We were startled by how strongly psychological distress before COVID infection was connected with increased risk of protracted COVID.” Compared to physical health risk factors like obesity, asthma, and hypertension, distress was more significantly related.

Relationship Between Long COVID and Psychological Distress

According to the study, those who disclosed psychological distress before contracting COVID had a 32% to 46% higher risk of developing lengthy COVID than those who did not. They also had a higher risk of daily living impairment brought on by conditions following COVID-19.

Participants were drawn from three ongoing longitudinal studies: the Growing Up Today Study, Nurses’ Health Study III, and Nurses’ Health Study II (GUTS). Between April 2020 and September 1, 2020, 54,960 participants completed a questionnaire, which was then assessed. Following that, monthly questionnaires were delivered to the responders. Additional weekly questions were supplied to participants who actively worked in healthcare facilities, and starting in August 2020, the surveys were sent out quarterly.

Even though some of the participants worked in the healthcare industry, according to Wang, only one third of them were actually employed there during the beginning of the epidemic. They self-report health-related information with greater accuracy than the general public, according to the questionnaire replies, she continued.

However, Wang pointed out that additional research is required to corroborate the findings because the study participants were not a representative sample of the American populace.

Symptoms Are Real, Not Imagined

The results suggest that physical COVID symptoms can be influenced by mental health. The long-lasting COVID symptoms experienced by the study participants, according to the researchers, were real and were brought on by their illness.

In fact, Wang said, “we want to address that we are not simply measuring distress symptoms among those who were already distressed” and so they separated out overlapping symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, and memory problems to look at symptoms like persistent cough, shortness of breath, or trouble smelling or tasting.

The findings, in other words, should not be construed to imply that post-COVID-19 circumstances are psychosomatic, according to the researchers. Researchers noted the following in their findings to bolster this theory:

  • More than 40% of responders with post-COVID-19 symptoms showed no distress at baseline.
  • The signs of post-COVID-19 disorders are very different from the signs of mental illness. Although exhaustion and brain fog often accompany sadness, issues with taste and smell, shortness of breath, and coughing are not frequent signs of mental illness.
  • More than 50% of patients with illnesses that developed after COVID-19 stated that physical activity precipitated relapses. In contrast, exercise helps prevent the return of mental disease.
  • When participants who exclusively reported psychiatric, cognitive, or neurological problems were excluded, the findings were consistent.
The number and variety of impairments and symptoms that persist after COVID, including the psychological and mental aspects, are becoming more and more recognized by infectious disease doctors, according to Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

According to Schaffner, “we’ve heard a lot about fuzzy thinking, but this is different. This is people feeling low, depressed, not as in touch with their reality, not as energetic, or withdrawing and it can indeed add to those senses of despair and withdrawal that already exist.”

The results of the study, he claimed, are not shocking, but they should be taken into consideration so that medical professionals may better treat people with mental health disorders. They should pay close attention to patients who had a history of anxiety or depression before developing COVID and recognize that these individuals may be more vulnerable to long-term psychological impacts of the virus, according to Schaffner.

Can Stress and Distress Make You Prone to Illness ?

Wang cited earlier studies that indicated mental health issues are linked to acute respiratory tract illnesses like the flu or the common cold that are more severe and last longer.

According to her, there is a higher chance of developing COVID-19 that is more severe and requires hospitalization if a person has depression or another mental disorder. Previous research has revealed that distress is linked to chronic Lyme disease symptoms as well as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, which share symptoms with long-term COVID (such as fatigue, headaches, and muscle pain).

Her most recent research, however, did not look into potential biological mechanisms. According to past studies, psychological distress has been linked to immunological dysregulation and chronic systemic inflammation, both of which have been linked to an elevated risk of COVID-19 symptoms that last for a long time.

More research is required to fully understand how psychological distress raises the risk of long COVID, according to Wang. “There is also evidence that some people with mental health conditions sometimes develop autoantibodies that have also been associated with increased risk of long COVID. Additionally, depression affects the brain in ways that may explain some cognitive symptoms in long COVID.

It’s crucial to understand that viruses don’t target individuals and have no advantage over sickening those who are already experiencing psychological anguish, according to Schaffner.

It’s more challenging for you to heal and return to where you were if you happen to be in that low state and contract the viral infection, he said.

Additionally, a lot of people follow the advice to separate themselves when they have COVID, and if they are exhausted, they could even refrain from communicating by phone, email, or social media.

According to Schaffner, doing that would intensify the overall loneliness that some people already felt. Therefore, it’s not only the virus; it’s also what we do when we’re ill.

A Call for Mental Health Awareness

According to Wang, the findings indicate to the necessity to take into account both physical and psychological health as long-term COVID-19 risk factors and cite the World Health Organization’s finding that 75% of depressed individuals in low- and middle-income countries do not receive proper care.

“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 pool of mental health clinicians, and enhancing access to services,” said Wang.

Schaffner concurred.

We’ve moved past the idea that mental illness is somehow phony or not real unless you’re crazy, he said, adding that depression, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness and remoteness are all real things.

He stated that people with mental health issues should be empowered by this study to advocate for themselves rather than become more afraid of COVID.

Reach out to the healthcare provider you were collaborating with before and let them know you might need more assistance if you experience these emotions after receiving COVID, advised Schaffner.

As of the time of publication, the information in this article is true. However, it’s probable that some information has altered since publication as the situation around COVID-19 continues to shift. While Health makes every effort to keep its articles as current as possible, we also advise readers to use the CDC, WHO, and their local public health agency as resources to stay up to speed on news and suggestions for their own communities.

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