Mental health struggles affect people with long-term COVID

Amy Weishan, 48, of Canby, Oregon, talks about her mental health challenges while living with long-term COVID-19. (OHSU / Christine Torres Hicks)

In fact Amy WeishanCOVID-19 is a far more simple task than long-term brain fog and severe fatigue that seem insurmountable. It is also an emotional roller coaster ride that took you to see a mental health professional for the first time.

“If they saw me right now, you wouldn’t believe my story,” said Weishan, 48, and Canby. “I don’t look like he’s struggling every day. I don’t have a band-aid. My struggle is on the inside, and the daily internal struggle is really challenging. I’ve always been in a state of tears and falling. ‘

Mental health and emotional well-being are often excluded from the long-term aspect of COVID-19, which can lead to persistent symptoms in between 10% and 30% of people with COVID-19 for three months or more after the onset of the initial infection. Fitness attacks can cause damage, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and mood disorders.

“People with severe or more complex long-term COVID-19 cases may have a deep sense of disability,” he said. Jordan Anderson, DOAssistant Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at Oregon University School of Health and Science.

Depression and anxiety are the ways in which the brain responds to the limitations of a new state of health. The longer a person faces a health challenge, the lower the mental health of a person, “Anderson said.” Some long-term patients with COVID-19 have not been well since 2020 and are struggling emotionally and physically.

The federal government estimates that 7.7 to 23 million Americans have a long COVID. Mental health is one of the many issues mentioned in President Joe Biden’s April 5 memorandum, which prompts the federal government to coordinate the United States’ response to the situation. And yet, Anderson does not know of any other psychiatrist who spends most of his time caring for patients with chronic COVID, as he does under the OHSU Long COVID-19 Program.

Emotional challenges

Weishan and his family became ill with COVID in July 2020, before vaccines became available and research indicated that vaccines reduce the risk of long-term COVID. He had difficulty breathing, suffered severe joint pain and was so weak that he felt like he had just run a marathon without training before. While his family was recovering, Weishan still had some persistent problems. In October 2020, she was positive again and experienced a terrible new symptom: cough, headache, and fever.

Fighting against COVID-19 led Weishan to seek refuge in his bedroom, alone. He wanted rest and silence, and was easily tired of others, including his family. The constant haze of the brain meant that he had trouble gathering his thoughts, let alone explaining them to others. Although he was usually easy and supportive, Weishan was concerned about confusion and preferred solitude to company. He had to take six months off work.

Once, he was forced to leave the house on a simple assignment: he went to a gas station to fill his family’s car. When it was time to fill the tank and leave, he was unable to restart the car and was immediately overwhelmed.

“I was crying, and I had to call my husband,” Weishan said. “He came to the station and found that I had forgotten to park my car. He followed me home to make sure I was okay. After that, I was the only one who went to bed and slept. ‘

He became almost too much in November 2021 when he tried to commit suicide.

“I remember thinking it was a shitty thing, but it’s better than I feel now,” Weishan recalled. “But I didn’t feel anything. So I pushed harder until I broke the surface of my skin. ”

She stopped before causing serious damage and went to her husband for help.

Empathetic listening makes all the difference

Weishan learned about the OHSU Long COVID-19 Program through an online support team. His first appointment was in April 2021; they were later referred to a mental health professional.

“I couldn’t get effective support until I met Dr. Anderson at OHSU,” he said. “I felt my whole body and mind being turned on me, and I didn’t know myself anymore. He helped me make sense of what was going on. ”

As a neuropsychiatrist who specializes in mental health and brain connections, Anderson explained from a biological point of view what was going on in his body and brain, and how they connected. Weishan was prescribed medication to help reduce severe anger and other mood swings.

To date, Anderson has cared for about 50 of the 800 patients receiving care through the OHSU Long COVID-19 Program. Patients who are severely aggravated by depression, anxiety, or panic attacks or who have suicidal thoughts are referred to him or her. Most of her long-suffering COVID patients are struggling with mental health for the first time in their lives. And for those who have had mental health problems before, long COVID can make it worse.

“Having a long covid is a new form of trauma that lasts itself, and for some patients it has not stopped for more than two years,” Anderson said, adding that many patients struggle to adapt to a lower level of functioning as a body. slowly coping with long COVID.

Like Weishan, some people have to take time off work when they are initially hit with a long COVID. However, most Anderson patients have been able to return to at least part-time work after a gradual recovery.

Anderson focuses on the symptoms of each patient, acknowledging that some may be caused by a physical illness instead of a pillow. For example, some long-term patients with COVID-19 may also have postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, a circulatory disorder that can lead to something like a panic attack. In such cases, he and other OHSU COVID providers recommend simple steps, such as emphasizing hydration and consuming enough nutrients and electrolytes, instead of prescribing panic attack medications.

When appropriate, Anderson prescribes some common psychiatric medications, such as propananol or benzodiazepine for anxiety. But perhaps the greatest help he can offer is to be an empathetic listener who truly listens to what his patients share.

“Mental health problems are exacerbated when patients feel disabled,” he explains. “Their suffering can be reduced when their loved ones and health care providers are more supportive and make a sincere effort to understand what they are going through.”

To help COVID patients with long-term mental health concerns, the OHSU program has organized support groups. Up to 20 patients come together almost once a month to share their experiences with each other. Weishan was involved in two such groups, and listening to the stories of others helped him to understand that he was not alone.

Anderson says health care providers in all specialties should be familiar with long-term COVID and should be open to refer patients to more complex cases to a specialist clinic if needed. The provider also encourages patients to study not only their physical symptoms but also their mental health.

Another kind of joy

Many things have changed in the almost two years since Weishan became ill with COVID-19. She still has headaches, her sense of smell often fades and she is separated from her husband. It is a pity how long COVID-19 has changed its world.

But all is not lost. Over the past year, Weishan has found confidence in immersing himself in a new job. He mainly works from home, where he can better control his daily cadence. She feels comfortable with her work, helping health care providers get prescription drug coverage, and using her analytical and critical thinking skills.

“Finding my happiness is very different these days,” he said. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m really looking forward to it and I’m looking for more victories every day. I keep trying, and I put one leg in front of the other. Some days are easier than others. ”

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