7 Ways COVID Can Ruin Your Mental Health
Fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, loss of sense of smell and taste—those are the most commonly discussed symptoms of mild COVID-19. In more severe cases, stroke, constant trouble breathing, and loss of consciousness. But there are some other symptoms and side effects of the virus that aren't regularly discussed—even though some are potentially life threatening. Read on to discover the warning signs so you can seek help when necessary, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
Mental Health Problems Are Increasing During the Pandemic
According to a study published in June by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, across the country anxiety and depression increased significantly during April through June of 2020 compared with the same period last year. Paula Zimbrean, MD, a Yale Medicine psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine confirms to Eat This, Not That! Health that there are a variety of mental health complications that can result during and after a COVID infection. "COVID-19 survivors can present with a variety of mental health problems even weeks after recovery," she explains. And, even those who are never directly infected with the virus can be prone to complications.
Paranoia and Disconnect
A small percentage of COVID patients suffer from brain inflammation while being hospitalized with severe illness, says Dr. Zimbrean. "This can lead to episodes of frank confusion, disorientation or paranoia, which in most cases, improve once the infection is treated."
Long Term Memory Issues
The small group mentioned above may also suffer from difficulties with memory and concentration, "that linger weeks after they are stable enough to go home," Dr. Zimbrean says.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Spending time in the hospital—quarantined from friends and family and even hooked up to a ventilator and unable to communicate—can be incredibly traumatic. Dr. Zimbrean maintains that some patients may develop symptoms post-traumatic stress disorder related to being in the hospital, afraid they would die and isolated from their loved ones.
While patients with mild cases of COVID aren't likely to develop confusion or some of the other serious symptoms mentioned above, the stress of the virus is still impacting them in a major way. Dr. Zimbrean points out that anxiety is listed as one of the persistent symptoms of the "long haulers"—together with fatigue and difficulty breathing.
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Depression Directly Related to Infection
Patients with severe COVID-19 infections but also those with mild disease may develop depression or anxiety or both, "weeks and months after physical recovery," says Dr. Zimbrean. "After an initial period of elation about surviving COVID-19 infection, the reality of life limitations due to risk of societal recurrence sets in," she explains.
General Pandemic Depression
Even those who aren't infected with the virus are experiencing this side effect of it. "The personal and social impact of the pandemic have led to numerous individual losses: some lost their loved ones, their physical independence, others lost their livelihood, their social status," Dr. Zimbrean maintains. "During the initial phases of lockdown there was the hope that all the restrictions and life in fear would be only temporary and things will return to normal in a few weeks. We are now more than 6 months from when COVID-19 became an official pandemic and life is far from being back to how it used to be, and even more, there is no sign of 'return to normal' in the near future." She adds that important coping skills that many people rely on—such as social interactions, certain types of exercise (team sports for instance) or travel are no longer easily available. "Having a history of depression makes one more vulnerable to becoming depressed now, but others may experience depression for the first time in their lives," she says.
How You Can Get Help for Mental Health Issues
Dr. Zimbrean suggests a variety of tactics that can help minimize mental health woes during the pandemic. On an individual level, she encourages a healthy lifestyle: adequate sleep, regular exercise, maintaining social connections while social distancing, and keeping up with routine health maintenance, such as annual doctor check and vaccinations. Also, avoiding excessive alcohol use and other psychoactive substances that are not prescribed. At the employer level, they need to allow flexible hours, ensure enough training and time for employees to master the new procedures, and ensure social distancing at the office. Also, she emphasizes the importance of seeking professional help when needed. "When depression or anxiety are interfering with one ability to work and maintain meaningful relationships, it is time to seek professional help, such as counseling and at times medications," she explains. "Mental health providers, through the American Psychiatric Association and other organizations, are advocating for extending the rules that have made telepsychiatry possible, in order to patients to have easy access to mental health care."
As for yourself: Seek the help when you need it, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.