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Is there a link between long COVID and depression or suicidal thoughts?

Researchers are exploring a possible link between long COVID-19, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Time recently reported that a 2021 survey of COVID-19 long-haulers who were members of the Survivor Corps support group found that 18% of respondents said they had thought about suicide at some point since they had developed long COVID. The article notes that among the general population, the share of suicidal thoughts is around 4%.

She asked again a few weeks ago and the number had increased dramatically – to around 45% of the 200 who answered the question.

It wasn’t a scientific or representative poll, but it points to what experts call a worrisome problem.

Some people – who may even have had what initially appeared to be very mild symptoms of COVID-19 – suffer from many sequelae. Per Times: “Long COVID, a chronic disease that affects millions of Americans who have had COVID-19, often bears no resemblance to acute COVID-19. Sufferers report more than 200 symptoms affecting nearly every part of the body, including the neurological, cardiovascular, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. The condition varies in severity, but many so-called “long haulers” are unable to work, attend school, or leave home with any sort of consistency.

The Independent also reported on the apparent link between long COVID symptoms and anxiety and depression, interviewing a couple who had planned to kill themselves together.

The article noted that it’s not just the symptoms of misery associated with long COVID that are leaving people desperate, but also “the lack of support and care.” Many of those suffering from the mental health impact had never had psychiatric symptoms of any kind before contracting COVID-19, The Independent reported.

More and more evidence

A study in the Lancet eClinicalMedicine series review found that for COVID-19 long-haulers, recovery typically took more than 35 weeks – sometimes much longer – and that while they were suffering from it, they averaged more 55 symptoms out of nine organ symptoms, including cognitive problems, in the vast majority of cases.

“There is a high likelihood that symptoms of psychiatric, neurological, and physical illnesses, as well as inflammatory brain damage in people with post-COVID syndrome, increase suicidal ideation and behavior in this patient population,” QJM : An International Journal of Medicine, reported last year.

The article noted that more research on the link between neuropsychiatric problems and long COVID is “urgently needed.”

An article in the journal BMC Psychiatry looked at what happens to people with post-COVID symptoms in Japan and Sweden. The study found that “about half had physical symptoms after COVID-19, and post-COVID conditions can lead to the onset of mental disorders.”

Abigail Hardin, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Rush University, told Time that the US healthcare system generally views illnesses as either physical or mental, although they can be both. “In reality, all of these things are actually very two-way,” she said. “Everything is integrated.”

She noted that separating the two can lead to misdiagnosis or the assignment of labels that aren’t entirely accurate or useful.

Meanwhile, a cohort study at the BMJ found that long haulers were more prone to anxiety disorders, depressive symptoms, stress and adjustment problems and the use of antidepressants. They were also more likely to suffer from opioid use disorders, neurocognitive decline and sleep disturbances, which have also been linked to the risk of depression and suicidal thoughts.

“The results suggest that people who survive the acute phase of COVID-19 are at increased risk of developing a range of incident mental health conditions. Addressing mental health disorders among COVID-19 survivors should be a priority,” the study states.

These experts and others suggest that recognizing this possible link and doing more research could be key to preventing suicide and improving mental health treatment for those with persistent coronavirus symptoms.

In England, Dr Davud Strain, a clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School who has long studied COVID, told The Independent that cases involving mental health and suicide risk ” keep increasing.” What’s unclear, he noted, is whether depression and suicidal thoughts are driven by a reaction to illness or by changes in the brain.