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Post-COVID syndrome: Mental health


Neuropsychiatric symptoms appear to be common with COVID-19 patients.

One recent study suggests COVID-19 patients have an increased chance of developing a new mental health illness within 90 days of diagnosis, compared to other illnesses such as influenza.

Patients who were admitted into intensive care are particularly susceptible to developing mental health issues.

For example, one study found up to 22% of patients who were admitted to a hospital for COVID-19, developed symptoms of anxiety or depression, and up to 38% of patients admitted to intensive care developed the same symptoms.

Other psychological symptoms that patients may experience include confusion, insomnia, decreased memory retention and poor concentration.

Critically ill patients also appear to be susceptible to developing post-traumatic stress disorder, or post-intensive care syndrome.

Healthcare providers have been particularly at risk for psychological distress during the pandemic, particularly health care professionals who spend a significant amount of time in direct contact with patients, who have been quarantined, and those whose workplaces don’t have sufficient personal protective equipment.

Healthcare providers who face social stigma because of their profession, who don’t receive sufficient time off, or who do not receive clear communication from superiors may also need extra psychological support.

Studies of healthcare workers in both China and Italy revealed that almost 50% of healthcare workers experienced traumatic distress during the pandemic, up to 25% experienced depression, up to 20% experienced anxiety, and up to 8% experienced insomnia.

In Canada, almost 50% of healthcare workers indicated they needed psychological support during the pandemic.

Healthcare workers can decrease their likelihood of developing psychological distress by getting regular physical exercise, seeking psychotherapy services, talking with colleagues or support groups, or practicing meditation.

Staff should keep an open dialog with their managers on how they are coping with the pandemic, so managers can attempt to accommodate needs their staff have.

Children may be disproportionately affected by the pandemic and social distancing efforts.

Children may experience anxiety, depression, and insomnia, caused by disruption to their routines, closure of schools, inability to see friends, and exposure to concerning news stories they see in the media.

Many children are experiencing increased screen time to accommodate schools transitioning to virtual learning, as well as to stay connected with friends and family.

Younger children have limited understanding of the pandemic, and limited coping and communication skills.

They may be unable to share their concerns and feelings to others.

As a result, younger children may be more prone to defiant behaviors, or are more irritable, have decreased attention spans, and may experience developmental regression such as thumb sucking or need for additional parental attention.

Spending additional time with children, increasing affection, reducing exposure to media, refraining from pandemic discussions with others around children, and encouraging video chat with relatives are all potential strategies to help reduce pandemic stress in young children.

Children who need to be quarantined are at significant risk of developing mental health issues.

For example, research suggests quarantined children have up to a 30% chance of developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

Quarantined children should have regular contact with their parents, encouraged to continue their daily routine, and should have contact with a mental health professional if possible.

Adolescents also will be disproportionately affected by social distancing efforts.

Teenagers and young adults have high energy levels, increased desire for new experiences, are highly motivated to have social experiences, and crave social interaction with their peers, making it difficult for them to remain isolated.

Adolescents may find social distancing efforts frustrating and boring, and increase feelings of isolation from their peers.

If possible, parents should encourage teenagers to set regular video calls with friends and family, get daily exercise outside, avoid frequent or long naps, and encourage them to avoid screen time before bed.

Engaging teenagers about their feelings will also help them cope and process any social isolation they may be feeling.