Most of those who went through psychological distress like anxiety, depression, worry, and perceived stress before Covid-19 struck them, happened to develop Long Covid, a study published in The JMMA Psychiatry said, suggesting that physical health conditions like smoking, asthma, and other health behaviours were not only the main reasons for Covid-19.
The study by researchers at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health reinforces the need to increase public awareness of the importance of mental health and to get mental health care for people who need it, including increasing the supply of mental health clinicians and improving access to care.
“We were surprised by how strongly psychological distress before a Covid-19 infection was associated with an increased risk of long Covid,” said Siwen Wang, a researcher in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School who led the study.
“Distress was more strongly associated with developing long Covid than physical health risk factors such as obesity, asthma, and hypertension.”
To determine the effects of psychological distress before Covid-19 infection on developing long Covid, Wang and her colleagues enrolled more than 54,000 people in April 2020.
At the beginning of the study, the researchers asked the participants about their psychological distress. Over the following year, more than 3,000 participants contracted COVID-19, and the researchers asked participants about their Covid-19 symptoms and symptom duration.
After analyzing the responses and comparing those who developed long Covid to those who did not, the researchers determined that distress before Covid-19 infection, including depression, anxiety, worry, perceived stress, and loneliness, was associated with a 32per cent-46per cent increased risk of long Covid. These types of psychological distress were also associated with 15per cent–51per cent greater risk of daily life impairment due to long Covid.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about 20per cent of American adults who have had Covid-19 have developed long Covid, which is defined as experiencing Covid-19-related symptoms, such as fatigue, brain fog, or respiratory, heart, neurological, or digestive symptoms, for longer than four weeks after infection. Severe Covid-19 illness increases the risk of long Covid, although people with milder Covid-19 cases can also develop long Covid. Symptoms, which can be debilitating, could last months or years, and little is known about which traits are linked to developing long Covid.
Mental health is known to affect the outcomes of some diseases. Depression and other mental illnesses have been associated with greater risk of more severe Covid-19 including the risk of hospitalization, which is a risk factor for long Covid.
In other acute respiratory tract infections, such as flu or the common cold, mental health conditions are associated with greater severity and longer duration of symptoms.
Previous studies have also suggested that distress is associated with chronic symptoms following Lyme disease and in chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, which have symptoms similar to those of long Covid.