Understanding the effects of Long COVID on mental health

effects of long covid
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Professor Marcantonio Spada, Consultant CBT Practitioner at Onebright, helps us to understand the effects of Long COVID on mental health

Long COVID, also termed ‘post COVID-19 condition’, is emerging as a set of physical and psychological symptoms faced by people who have recovered from COVID-19. There continues to be uncertainty about the prevalence of Long COVID symptoms in adults and children following infection.

The Office for National Statistics estimated in 2021 that around 1.2 million people in the UK (including around 77,000 children aged two to 16 and around 134,000 people between 17 and 25 years old) are experiencing self-reported Long COVID. Long COVID can be very debilitating, and some people need help with personal care months after the initial infection. Many dealing with Long COVID have reported that it has not only affected their family life and ability to care for dependents but also their ability to work and manage their personal finances.

“The Office for National Statistics estimated in 2021 that 1.2 million people in the UK are experiencing self- reported Long COVID”

How to spot the signs and symptoms of Long COVID

The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that over 200 symptoms have been reported by people experiencing Long COVID.

The most common are:

  • Fatigue.
  • Difficulties in thinking (often described as ‘brain fog’).
  • Shortness of breath.

A need for better understanding about the effects of Long COVID

The unpredictability of Long COVID will impact its sufferers in many ways, for example, in preventing socialising and working, and in not knowing how long the condition will endure. This, in turn, is likely to fuel psychological distress. Research has indicated that up to a third of people may be suffering anxiety and/or mood disorders six months after their initial COVID-19 infection.

As evidence mounts on the growing mental health impact that the pandemic has had on individuals, an invisible pandemic continues to spill over into the workplace; one that requires more than simply raising awareness or approving an extended holiday break for an employee. Anxiety and low mood have always been part of working life, but the COVID-19 pandemic has propelled these into the limelight.

Additional symptoms include, anxiety or depression, difficulty speaking, chest pain and muscle aches, loss of smell and/or taste, fear of illness, and traumatic memories of ill health/isolation.

effects of long covid
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Boosting your mental health when battling the effects of Long COVID

Whilst research and medical professionals continue to shed light on Long COVID and its association with psychological distress, there are some tips on how to boost mental health if you are suffering from Long COVID:

  • Be kind to yourself during your recovery – Be prepared that some days will be worse than others. There may be ‘windows’ of improvement followed by more difficult times. These ups and downs are part of the recovery process.
  • Connect with other people – This can help you feel happier and distract you from both physical and psychological symptoms of Long COVID. Make sure to keep in touch, regularly, with family and friends.
  • Have a daily routine – This will also help improve mood and sense of stability.
  • Stay active – Continuing to move will help release endorphins and take attention away from monitoring fluctuating physical and psychological symptoms. It will also help with strengthening baseline fitness to improve confidence.

How can you deal with the effects of Long Covid as an employer?

Employers should also be aware that the effects of Long COVID can come and go. On some days the person might seem well, but on others, their symptoms can be worse and they might need to be off work again or have work patterns made more flexible.

If an employee is on sick leave, they might feel isolated or need support to return to work. Employers should consider:

  • Agreeing how and when to make contact during any absence.
  • Making sure their work is covered and shared out appropriately while they are off.
  • Talking about ways to support them as they return to work where and when possible.
  • Determining if they can do anything to help if an employer feels the employee is not able to do their work or is taking a lot of time off. For example, a further occupational health assessment to find out if more support is needed is a viable option.

Living with the effects of Long COVID

A substantial number of people who suffered from COVID-19 will have persistent complaints, both physical and psychological, for several months after the onset of COVID-19–related symptoms.

We need to be aware of this and support recovery which will occur for the vast majority and may take both time and patience on the part of employers.

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