The Mental Health Effect of Long COVID-19

Posted: 2nd May 2024

Source: (21) The Mental Health Effect of Long COVID-19 | LinkedIn

Health and fitness are an important part of Dr. Yusra Benhalim’s life and identity. She has always been active as a runner and engaged in high-intensity interval training. So, in March 2020, she was startled to realize she suddenly could not run – in fact, she could barely catch a breath.

It was the beginning of an excruciating six weeks in the early days of the pandemic, when her doctors did not suspect the new virus. They treated her for what they thought was pneumonia and new onset asthma.

“I had no idea it was going to be such a long haul. For six weeks, I had a hard time just getting air in and out. I felt like I had been steam-rolled by a bus and a train at the same time.” —Dr. Benhalim

🦠 COVID and Mental Health

Dr. Benhalim’s breathing slowly improved but didn’t go back to normal. She consistently struggled for breath just walking up the stairs or trying to do yoga. That was just the beginning of a challenging mental health journey that is common for people who suffer with prolonged symptoms from “long COVID,” or post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 (PASC).

Dr. Benhalim is now helping to lead our initiative to research PASC and its mental health effects and identify resources for those who are similarly afflicted.

Researchers are just starting to see how #COVID19 affects our mental health, but it’s clear the virus can create debilitating emotional and mental health effects in how it impacts our day to day function, Dr. Benhalim said. People with COVID often suffer from other conditions after having the virus, including depression, anxiety, PTSD and substance abuse disorders. It’s not just the virus. It’s also how the virus impacts our quality of life after we were sick, with changes in our mood, brain fog and difficulty doing the things we used to do.

PASC can also take us away from our friends, families and work, which can worsen depression. It can be emotionally taxing for people just trying to convince doctors and insurers that they have PASC.

🔬 Treatment and Hope

For Dr. Benhalim, it was devastating to be unable to exercise, which greatly affected her mood. She also struggled with brain fog that left her frustrated and unfocused. Her hand strength decreased, which made it hard to do regular tasks.

“It is almost like a loss of self,” she said. “It is a loss of the spark of who you are.”

Dr. Benhalim “suffered in silence” for months, without answers or a care team. But when she sought help, her providers – including a primary care doctor, then a cardiologist, then a post-COVID rehab clinician – each validated her symptoms. They had seen others with similar experiences.

“It took a lot of courage for me to have that first conversation, and their response was essential to my feeling like someone finally understood me and that we could take the next steps together.” —Dr. Benhalim

Dr. Benhalim now feels hopeful and empowered in her self-care.

“I find myself setting goals and feeling motivated to slowly work toward them. I also feel more comfortable breaking my silence with friends and co-workers. Helping others understand why I may not be myself at my usual optimal performance has helped open the door to having more compassion and understanding in my life.” —Dr. Benhalim

⚕️ How to Get Help

Providers can treat and alleviate the mental health issues associated with long COVID-19. Research shows that most people improve with time and treatment. If you are struggling with long COVID symptoms, please talk to your doctor.

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