Impact on Mental Health — Talkspace

Depression in COVID-19 Patients & Survivors

Whether you were recently diagnosed with COVID-19 or are one of the COVID 19 survivors, the depression you may be experiencing is not uncommon. 

First, it’s important to understand that things are not “normal” right now. Everything we’re going through during the pandemic has altered many aspects of our lives, which can be difficult for some people to process. Couple this reality with an actual diagnosis, and the stress and pressure can feel overwhelming at best, devastating at worst. 

“The changes involved are causing depression following COVID-19. Some people started to call it the “new normal,” but in reality, it was a set of new behaviors, thoughts, and expectations, and like most changes, it has been difficult to adapt to this change.”

Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, LCSWC, CFTP

Is depression a side effect of COVID-19?

Though more studies need to be done to determine the long-term effects of depression due to COVID-19, some research is showing staggering results. In fact, more than half (52.4%) of people surveyed reported moderate to severe symptoms of major depression, even several months post-recovery. 

“It can be described as a side effect of COVID-19, but not everyone experiences it. Those individuals that have never felt depressed or who have the tools to deal with the symptoms of depression are less affected by it.” – Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, LCSWC, CFTP

There seems to also be a link between the severity of COVID and depression. The same study found that those who suffered more severe symptoms during their bout with COVID are more likely to report depression symptoms after recovering from the virus. Further, COVID survivors seem to be more likely to report other mental health conditions as well, including:

What is causing depression following COVID-19?

While research continues, there are two ways it’s currently thought that COVID-19 can have an impact on mental health, including issues related to both:

  • Our immune response to the virus
  • Psychological stress stemming from a COVID-19 diagnosis

Immune response: Part of what we think we know about COVID-19 infections is that in response to the virus, our immune system produces chemokines and cytokines, along with other inflammation-causing reactions. Higher levels of a specific cytokine — known as T-helper-2 cell-secreted cytokines — appears to be found in those with more severe symptoms and cases of COVID. 

High levels of cytokines can result in, among a host of other complications, the following:

  • A disruption in blood-brain-barrier
  • Inflammation (nerves)
  • Nerve transmission impairment
  • Central nervous system issues

Each of the above conditions are directly linked to various mental health conditions, like depression. Additionally, research has also linked elevated systemic immune-inflammation levels to major depressive disorder. 

Psychological stress: Multiple psychological factors seem to play a part in depression during COVID. High levels of sleep disturbances, PTSD, anxiety, and depression have been commonly reported during and after COVID infections. These may all be the result of stress-related to:

  • Psychological reaction to contracting a potentially deadly virus
  • Social isolation and confinement 
  • COVID-19 stigma
  • Guilt or fear of spreading COVID to others

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