HHS issues advisory on mental health symptoms linked to long COVID

Conditions include anxiety, depression and psychosis, according to the advisory.

June 21, 2023, 6:57 PM

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services issued an advisory Wednesday warning about identifying mental health symptoms and conditions linked to long COVID.

Long COVID occurs when people recover from the virus but experience ongoing symptoms lasting three months or longer, such as coughing, headaches, fatigue, sleep disturbances and cognitive impairment.

According to the HHS, about 10% of all people who have previously contracted COVID-19 have experienced at least one symptom of long COVID.

Having to battle these physical symptoms for weeks or months on end "can take a toll on a person's mental health," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

"It can be very challenging for a person, whether they are impacted themselves, or they are a caregiver for someone who is affected," Becerra continued. "This advisory helps to raise awareness, especially among primary care practitioners and clinicians who are often the ones treating patients with long COVID."

PHOTO: mature man on sofa with hands on face.
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The advisory found mental health symptoms and conditions linked to COVID include anxiety, depression, psychosis, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Research has shown that social isolation -- due to lockdowns, school closures and stay-at-home orders -- increases the risks of anxiety, depression and loneliness, especially for older adults.

Additionally, unemployment and insecure employment increase the risk of depression and anxiety, studies have found, with more vulnerable groups such as Hispanic and Black people, women, young adults aged 18 to 29 years and those without a college degree.

The patient may not be the only person who suffers from poor mental health but also family members caring for them, the advisory stated.

Several factors may exacerbate mental health conditions including chronic physical and/or mental illness both physical and mental, social isolation, financial insecurity, caregiver burnout, and grief.

"We know that people living with long COVID need help today, and providers need help understanding what long COVID is and how to treat it," said Admiral Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for Health, said in a statement.

This advisory helps bridge that gap for the behavioral health impacts of long COVID. This is one component of a government-wide response that continues to research long COVID and provide supports and services to those in need," she added.

Dr. Joshua Morganstein, chair of the American Psychiatric Association's committee on the psychiatric dimensions of disaster, told ABC News it's important to have long-term surveillance when it comes to mental health and long COVID to recognize the long-term trends.

Morganstein added, although not everyone may have access to the same resources, it's important to try and recognize mental health symptoms and to seek help if possible.

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