This article explores the mental health consequences of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and their treatment.

COVID19 Related Psychiatric Illnesses symptoms

COVID-19 is a contagious respiratory illness; not surprisingly, its best-known symptoms are respiratory too (e.g., breathing difficulties, coughing, loss of smell).  Yet, this illness is also associated with psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and altered mental statuses, like confusion or disorientation.

It is not clear why these psychiatric manifestations of COVID-19 are seldom mentioned.  Certainly not because they are rare: According to a recent study, nearly one in six patients reported having anxiety, and one in four said having depression.

COVID19 Related Psychiatric Illnesses symptoms are also present in “long haulers.” Note, long haulers are patients who continue to struggle with symptoms of COVID-19 weeks and months after their diagnosis.

What are common symptoms?

Commonly reported symptoms in long haulers to include sleep difficulties, anxiety, and depression.  Another symptom is “brain fog,” a term that describes various cognitive abnormalities, such as difficulties with attention, concentration, memory, and even language.  It is not clear why long haulers develop these mental health issues, but there are several theories.

One possibility is organ damage: Just as COVID-19 has harmful effects on the lungs and the heart, it can also damage the brain.  For example, it may cause inflammation in the brain.

An alternative explanation involves not the effects of COVID-19 itself but the effects of the procedures used to treat it.  This explanation is more applicable to cases of severe COVID-19.  For instance, the experience of having being intubated or the simple fact of being hospitalized with a potentially life-threatening condition can be traumatizing and cause considerable anxiety and depression.

Finally, specific symptoms (e.g., fatigue, sleep difficulties, concentration problems) in long haulers might be better explained by other conditions, like chronic fatigue syndrome, which is sometimes triggered by viral infections.  Chronic fatigue syndrome is a condition characterized by debilitating fatigue (fatigue that is not improved by rest) and symptoms such as dizziness, unrefreshing sleep, and memory problems.

Treating the psychiatric symptoms of COVID-19

As mentioned above, many questions remain about why COVID-19 patients—whether long haulers or those with a recent diagnosis—experience COVID19 Related Psychiatric Illnesses symptoms like anxiety, depression, psychological trauma, sleep disturbances, and concentration and memory problems.

But the good news is that decades of research on mental health treatments show it is possible to help patients manage their psychiatric symptoms, even when the potential causes of these symptoms are not fully understood.

Evidence-based treatments for anxiety and depression include psychiatric medications (e.g., antidepressants like the SSRIs and SNRIs), psychotherapy (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy), and holistic approaches (e.g., healthy eating, mindfulness practices).3

Aside from treating specific mental health conditions, therapists may provide help in a variety of other ways, be it through teaching problem-solving skills to long haulers trying to find a way to resume their careers, giving guidance on coping with concentration and memory problems, or providing practical or emotional support to patients in their search for answers on how to return to “normal.”

The first step, before choosing a treatment, is to have an in-depth assessment.  The results of the evaluation help your provider determine the nature of the symptoms and their severity.  The results also allow your doctor to determine if other undiagnosed or untreated health conditions are present (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome) that might exacerbate your anxiety and depression or even explain some of the COVID19 Related Psychiatric Illnesses symptoms assumed to be caused by COVID-19.

And with proper treatment, you will feel more confident, managing the residual effects of COVID-19 will become more manageable, and your daily functioning will improve.