Long-term depression and anxiety can follow severe Covid cases: Study
Feelings of depression and anxiety can last more than a year for people with a severe Covid-19 infection, according to a study.
The research was published on Monday in The Lancet Public Health
The study is among the first to analyze long-term mental health repercussions following severe cases of Covid, which researchers described as being unable to get out of bed for at least a week.
The analysis included 247,249 people living across northern Europe — Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom — from February 2020 through August 2021.
Compared to those without Covid, people who tested positive were overall slightly more likely to experience lingering feelings of depression or have trouble sleeping. But for the most part, the issues abated within two months.
Those whose acute illness kept them bedridden for at least seven days — in the hospital or at home — were significantly more likely to experience anxiety and/or depression 16 months later, said study author Unner Anna Valdimarsdóttir, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Iceland.
The study was observational, and Valdimarsdóttir and her colleagues were unable to determine the exact link between severe Covid and long-term mental well-being.
The impact of social isolation from being bedridden with a contagious illness for at least a week may have contributed to lasting feelings of helplessness, she said.
But the general markers of long Covid — at least three months of profound fatigue, trouble with cognition and attention and a decreased ability to perform physical household chores — also appear to play a role.
“It may be that this group of patients is still experiencing physical symptoms that fuel the mental health symptoms, or vice versa,” Valdimarsdóttir said.
Valdimarsdóttir said the findings may mean that physicians should be monitoring their most severe Covid patients for indications of mental health issues, even after they recover from acute physical illness.
The study largely mirrors what physicians treating long Covid patients in the U.S. are seeing. That is, many patients who had severe cases of Covid went on to develop feelings of depression.
Dr. Marc Sala, a pulmonologist and critical care specialist at Northwestern Medicine’s Comprehensive Covid-19 Center in Chicago, said patients with long Covid report symptoms of brain fog and difficulty focusing more so than depression or anxiety.