The Link Between Mental Illness and COVID-19
| 3 min read
Dr. William Beecroft, MD, DLFAPA, is medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Dr. Beecroft is board-certified in general psychiatry, consultation-liaison and geriatrics specialties. He serves on the Michigan Suicide Prevention Commission.
Bi-directional links between chronic illness and depression well established
Factors specific to COVID-19 that could raise risks for mental illness
- Isolation and loneliness. People diagnosed with COVID-19 are urged to self-isolate, avoiding contact with others to keep them safe. When patients are hospitalized, they often aren’t allowed to have visitors due to strict safety precautions. A deep sense of loneliness caused by isolation can lead to depression.
- Long-term symptoms. For some people with COVID-19, symptoms persist long after the virus is detected in the body. While severe symptoms such as fever and breathlessness might have passed, feelings of fatigue and “brain fog” have been noted for weeks and months in so-called “long haulers.” Feelings of uncertainty related to when they’ll get back to normal could contribute to some COVID-19 patients developing anxiety or depression.
- Neurological effects. In many cases of severe COVID-19, the virus appears to affect the brain, causing neurological and cognitive symptoms such as delirium and confusion. Inflammation caused by the virus could also target the brain. This type of stress on the brain has been associated with depression and anxiety.
- Novelty of the disease. Much is still unknown about COVID-19 and its long-term effects. Being one of the first people to contract the disease could certainly lead to feelings of anxiety about the potential for death or serious complications.
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