New research has shown that individuals with pre-existing anxiety and depression are at increased risk of developing long COVID if they contract the virus. The study, conducted by Harvard researchers, analysed data from three large, ongoing studies and found that anxiety raised the risk of long COVID by 42%, depression by 32%, worry about COVID by 37%, perceived stress by 46%, and loneliness by 32%. The research highlights the importance of taking care of mental health during the pandemic and ensuring support is available for those who need it.
Further research has indicated that individuals who develop anxiety and depression after contracting COVID-19 may experience brain shrinkage in areas that regulate memory, emotion and other functions, as well as disruption of brain connectivity. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Campinas, evaluated 254 individuals after approximately 82 days from their positive PCR test for COVID-19. Brain scans showed that those with COVID-19 who also had anxiety and depression had shrinkage in the limbic area of the brain, while those infected who did not have anxiety or depression did not. The researchers also found functional changes in brain communication in those with anxiety and depression, which could lead to problems with thinking skills and memory.
It is thought that depression and anxiety are associated with inflammation and immune dysfunction, which may explain the link between these mental health conditions, the risk of long COVID, and changes in the brain. Researchers have also found that healthy lifestyle habits, such as maintaining a healthy BMI, moderate alcohol intake, and good sleep, can reduce the risk of long COVID. As the number of individuals experiencing post-COVID symptoms continues to rise, it is important to provide support for those suffering from mental health issues and to promote healthy lifestyle habits to reduce the risk of long COVID.