By Christa Banister
While deaths from COVID-19 are trending downward three years after the virus first touched down in the United States, we’re still learning about the coronavirus’ alarming aftereffects on our physical and mental health.
Of course, the fallout from the global pandemic isn’t exactly surprising, given how much changed about our day-to-day routines, work, and relationships since March 2020 and COVID’s one-year anniversary. Whether you tested positive for the virus or managed to escape its clutches, the pandemic was a stressful time for everyone.
As researchers study the long-range effects, they’re finding more and more evidence for how common depression after COVID recovery has become. New findings reported by The Lancet Public Health showed feelings of depression and anxiety can last nearly a year and a half after a serious case of COVID-19.
The Long-Term Mental Health Repercussions of COVID
Underscoring the seriousness of depression after COVID recovery, a 2021 JAMA Network study shows that more than half of American adults have reported post-COVID depression symptoms.
The risk of developing depression after COVID, not to mention other mental health disorders, remains high up to a year after you’ve recovered, says The BMJ.
So, what exactly is the connection? Why are struggles with post-COVID anxiety and depression so common and lengthy?
Research shared by scientists in The New York Times points to how the coronavirus alters the brain and other important bodily functions that trigger inflammation and disrupt the normal regulation processes in cells that lead to healthy mental function.
COVID may also lead to organ damage and affect bacteria and microbes in the gut responsible for producing neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which regulate our mood.
Who Is Affected the Most?
One of the many mysteries of COVID is how differently it affects people. Some say it’s not much worse than the common cold. Others lose taste and smell for months after they’ve tested negative. Most fall somewhere in between.
Some require hospitalization, while others recover well in a week or two at home. Those with long COVID symptoms find it difficult to return to their normal routines because of persistent fatigue, brain fog, and neurological difficulties.
A handful of commonalities have emerged among those who struggle with depression after COVID. If you were diagnosed with a mental health disorder before you got sick, developing depression afterward is a risk factor. Those who required hospitalization for COVID also have increased chance of depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
More data about the pandemic’s overall impact has also revealed the vulnerability of certain demographics. Teens have been especially susceptible to depression and anxiety throughout the pandemic. The World Health Organization also found young people to be at an increased risk for self-harm and suicidal behaviors and ideation.
Others who may struggle with depression after COVID recovery include men and women who:
- Experience extreme disruptions to sleep
- Have increased their use of alcohol or prescription medication
- Been socially isolated from friends, family, or coworkers
- Had a dramatic increase in stress at work, with family, financially, or otherwise
- Had severe cases of COVID that required more than a week of hospitalization
Next Steps for Those Facing Depression After COVID
If what’s been described here resonates with you and you feel you may be struggling with depression, it’s important not to ignore it. Reach out to trusted friends, family, or coworkers. Seek a medical professional’s opinion and treatment, if necessary. Talk to a counselor in person or via telehealth services.
SELF also shared that there are a number of COVID survivor support groups that gather online and in person so you can feel less alone as you discuss your common struggles, particularly with long COVID.
If you are struggling with depression or anxiety (or both) after recovering from COVID, reconnect with Meadows Behavioral Healthcare alumni here at Onward. Recovery is a lifelong journey and staying connected can make a world of difference with our ongoing resources. Contact us today to receive support and care for whatever you are going through.