The risk of developing symptoms of depression remains high up to a year after you’ve recovered.
The World Health Organization noted this year that anxiety and depression increased by 25 percent across the globe in just the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. And researchers have continued to find more evidence that the coronavirus wreaked havoc on our mental health: In a 2021 study, more than half of American adults reported symptoms of major depressive disorder after a coronavirus infection. The risk of developing these symptoms — as well as other mental health disorders — remains high up to a year after you’ve recovered.
It’s not surprising that the pandemic has had such a huge impact. “It’s a seismic event,” said Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis and the chief of research and development at the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System.
Health concerns, grief from losing loved ones, social isolation and the disruption of everyday activities were a recipe for distress, especially early on in the pandemic. But compared with those who managed to avoid infection (but also dealt with the difficult impacts of living through a pandemic), people who got sick with Covid-19 seem to be much more vulnerable to a variety of mental health problems.
“There’s something about the coronavirus that really affects the brain,” Dr. Al-Aly said. “Some people get depression, while other people can have strokes, anxiety, memory disorders and sensory disorders.” Still others have no neurological or psychiatric conditions at all, he said.
Why do some people get depressed when they have Covid?
Scientists are still learning exactly how the coronavirus alters the brain, but research is beginning to highlight some possible explanations. A few studies, for example, have shown that the immune system goes into overdrive when some people get sick. They can end up with inflammation throughout the body and even in the brain. There is also some evidence that the endothelial cells lining blood vessels in the brain become disrupted during a bout of Covid-19, which may inadvertently allow harmful substances through, affecting mental function. And cells called microglia, which normally act as the brain’s housekeepers, may go rogue in some patients, attacking neurons and damaging synapses, Dr. Al-Aly said.
It’s possible that Covid-19 may even compromise the diversity of bacteria and microbes in the gut. Since microbes in the gut have been shown to produce neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which regulate mood, this change could be at the root of some neuropsychiatric issues.
When do Covid blues become clinical depression? What are some early signs?
While you are in the thick of things, fighting off viral infection, it is normal to feel tired and headachy. “When you feel physiologically terrible, it can interfere with your mood,” Dr. Hosey said. “I would never diagnose somebody with a clinical depression in the acute phases of a Covid infection.”
But if your exhaustion and feeling of being overwhelmed persist for two to six weeks after your Covid infection and start to interfere with day-to-day activities or negatively affect your relationships with others, it could be a sign of depression, Dr. Hosey said.
Some people with depression may also experience persistent sadness, tearfulness, irritability, changes in appetite or weight, trouble thinking or concentrating, or feelings of immense guilt, worthlessness or hopelessness. Those with severe depression may think frequently of death and develop suicidal ideation, Dr. Hosey said.
By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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