Long covid’s relationship with psychological distress

Long covid’s relationship with psychological distress

What is Long Covid?

The National Institute for Heath and Care Excellence (NICE) defines Long Covid as:

  • Experiencing the symptoms of Covid for 4-12 weeks after infection or;
  • Experiencing the symptoms of Covid, and other symptoms that cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis, 12 weeks or more after infection.

Essentially someone has Long Covid if they are still experiencing Covid symptoms long after contracting the illness. 

How common is Long Covid?

In July 2022 ONS estimated there are 1.8 million people in the UK experiencing Long Covid. That’s 2.8% of the population. 

What are the symptoms?

A study by University of Birmingham researchers suggested there are around 62 potential symptoms. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) say the most commonly reported are:

  • Fatigue (54%)
  • Shortness of breath (31%)
  • Loss of smell (23%)

However, aside from the physical symptoms that seem to get the most attention, there is a deep connection between long covid, mental health and psychological distress. 

Long Covid and mental health

An April 2020 study by researchers at Harvard found that people who suffer from conditions such as depression, anxiety, psychological distress and loneliness before catching Covid are between 32% and 45% more likely to develop Long Covid. This startling statistic reinforces the importance of supporting those with mental health conditions, particularly in the context of Covid. 

One of the Harvard researchers said ‘the associations were stronger with these [mental health] risk factors than with other things we know to be associated with Long Covid such as obesity, hypertension and asthma’. 

One explanation for this could be that, as studies have shown, psychological distress can increase chronic inflammation as well as disrupt the immune system which could make people more susceptible to Long Covid.

The link between Long Covid and mental health doesn’t end there. Mental health conditions are a common symptom of Long Covid. An April 2021 study that monitored over 200,000 adults for six months after contracting Covid found that 24% experienced a mood, anxiety or psychotic disorder in this period. And for 8.6% of the 24% this was the first diagnosis of such a disorder.    

Are there any ways to prevent getting long covid?

Studies suggest that vaccinated people who get Covid are far less likely to get Long Covid. Further, given that your mental health can impact on the likelihood of getting Long Covid, it might be useful to read Michael Green’s blog which provides tips on maintaining good mental health and dealing with psychological distress. 

Is Long Covid a disability by law?

Potentially. A person will be considered disabled under section 6 of the Equality Act if they can show they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities. 

If you are being mistreated at work, and you believe the mistreatment to be based on your Long Covid, didlaw can help so do get in touch.

This blog was written by Jack Dooley, Trainee Solicitor at didlaw.