Early on in the pandemic, a pervasive myth among patients and some health authorities was the idea that Covid-19 was a short-term illness. Only fairly recently has more attention been given to Covid-19 “long-haulers,” whose sicknesses have persisted for months.
In online support groups like Body Politic and Survivor Corps, long-haulers have produced informal surveys and reports to study their course of illness, and many have opened up about how their mental health has suffered because of the disease. Dozens wrote that their months of illness have contributed to anxiety and depression, exacerbated by the difficulties of getting access to medical services and experiencing disruptions to their work, social and exercise routines.
“I felt this stigma like, ‘I’ve got this thing nobody wants to be around,’” said Angela Aston, 50, a nurse practitioner who was sick for weeks. “It makes you depressed, anxious that it’s never going to go away. People would say to my husband, ‘She’s not better yet?’ They start to think you’re making it up.”
Natalie Lambert, a health researcher at Indiana University School of Medicine, recently surveyed more than 1,500 long-haul patients through the Survivor Corps Facebook page and found a number of common psychological symptoms. She found that anxiety was the eighth most common long-haul symptom, cited by more than 700 respondents. Difficulty concentrating was also high on the list, and more than 400 reported feeling “sadness.”
Dr. Teodor Postolache, a psychiatrist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, estimates that between one-third and one-half of Covid-19 patients experienced some form of mental health problems including anxiety, depression, fatigue or abnormal sleeping.
“I’ve had three OK days, but I’m hesitant to share that, because it could go away,” Ms. Smith said. “Long-haulers will tell you that. We preface every conversation when we feel good with, ‘I’ll regret saying this tomorrow.’”