Does COVID-19 Cause a Unique Form of Depression?

Post-COVID Depression

Are you a few months post-COVID-19 infection, but you can’t seem to shake your low mood? Are you struggling with anxious thoughts and/or having trouble sleeping too much or too little? These are a few of the hallmark symptoms of depression. Research is showing a significant number of COVID-19 patients are having depressive symptoms months post-infection—and they may be a result of how the coronavirus interacts with the brain.

 

 

Research is showing a significant number of COVID-19 patients are having depressive symptoms months post-infection—and they may be a result of how the coronavirus interacts with the brain. Click To Tweet

A DIFFERENT KIND OF DEPRESSION

It’s understandable that COVID-19 patients may experience lingering depression following infection, especially if their case was severe or required hospitalization. Depression and/or anxiety could result from the unique circumstances surrounding having COVID-19, such as prolonged isolation, the trauma of hospitalization, stigma from having contracted the illness, and possible employment loss and financial burdens.

Yet, surprisingly, a significant number of people—even those who had mild or moderate cases—are experiencing ongoing depressive symptoms, anxious feelings, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) several months out from initial infection. Indeed, depression and anxiety are among a number of symptoms reported in cases of long COVID, when patients continue to be affected by the virus months after initial infection.

POST-COVID DEPRESSION RESEARCH

Researchers began taking note of post-COVID depression in 2020. A July 2020 study published online in Brain Behavioral Immunology examined the mental health of hundreds of patients post-COVID. It found that 31% of patients self-rated in the psychopathological range for depression, and 42 % for anxiety—in addition to significant numbers also rating for PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms, and insomnia. Curiously, there was one commonality to most all of the cases: systemic inflammation. Specifically, the study notes that “baseline systemic immune-inflammation index (SII), which reflects the immune response and systemic inflammation were positively associated with scores of depression and anxiety at follow-up.”

In March of 2021, another larger study published in JAMA Network Open surveyed more than 3900 individuals with prior COVID-19 illness between May 2020 and January 2021. It found that 52.4% of participants met the criteria for symptoms of major depressive disorder about 3 months post-COVID.

Among the most recent research, a December 2021 review analyzed research from 8 different studies on post-COVID depression and found that patients less severely affected by COVID experienced more depression later. In one study from the review, patients mildly affected by COVID-19 reported a greater frequency of depressive symptoms than patients critically affected (22% vs 10%) 13 weeks after onset of symptoms. The study also recognized the role inflammation may play in post-COVID depression, noting that some of its reviewed research showed that COVID-19 induces a hyperinflammatory state, which may cause persistent low-grade inflammation.

A link between inflammation and depression has already been well established, although it is not fully understood. Research has found that pro-inflammatory cytokines affect levels of serotonin (the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness), dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary–adrenal axis (which often occurs with depression), self-regulation, the central nervous system, neuroplasticity, and brain function. In addition to inflammation, COVID-19 affects the brain in other ways that can influence mood.

MOOD AND OVERACTIVITY IN THE LIMBIC SYSTEM

The brain SPECT imaging work at Amen Clinics shows how COVID-19 can negatively impact the brain. SPECT is a well-studied brain imaging technology that measures blood flow and activity in the brain. SPECT scans of patients at Amen Clinics taken before being infected with COVID-19 and then again months after testing positive for the virus reveal a dramatic increase in activity in the brain’s limbic system or emotional centers. Overactivity in this area is associated with a greater risk of depression, as well as anxiety, OCD, and PTSD.

The activity observed in the limbic system appears to align with theories about how the coronavirus may interact with the brain and nervous system. Because most all coronaviruses affect the nose, neuroscientists believe they may reach the brain by efficiently traveling up the olfactory nerve. One study suggests that mood, anxiety, and olfactory dysfunction in COVID‐19 patients may indicate evidence of central nervous system involvement. It has been theorized that the olfactory nerve or other cranial nerves, may be the virus’ springboard to the brain’s limbic system, which as we now know, is the brain’s emotional center from which depression and anxiety disorders may spring.

Research is continuing and more understanding of how COVID-19 interacts with the brain and the nervous system will be revealed. In the meantime, there’s hope for long COVID patients, experiencing depression and anxiety. Here are 5 things you can do to calm limbic activity, quell inflammation, and help you feel better.

5 WAYS TO COMBAT DEPRESSION POST-COVID

1. Consider nutritional supplements.

Consider taking calming and anti-inflammatory nutraceuticals such as high-absorption curcumin, GABA, theanine, vitamin D, vitamin C in higher doses, quercetin, zinc, magnesium, and omega-3s. Low-dose aspirin may help quell inflammation too, but be sure to discuss it and any supplement regimen with your healthcare provider first!

2. Engage in movement or physical exercise.

When you are feeling depressed, exercise may seem like a tall order. Any kind of movement is good for calming your brain and boosting your mental well-being. Start by simply walking around your home and/or doing some simple stretches. If you can work up to some physical exercise, even better. Research shows that physical exercise can be as effective as an antidepressant!

3. Cultivate calming practices and get restful sleep.

Diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, infrared sauna therapy, hypnosis, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy are all great ways to calm the limbic system. If you’re having trouble sleeping, turn off your digital at least an hour before bedtime, since they stimulate the brain. Try reading a paper book instead.

4. Eat a clean, healthy diet.

Avoid caffeine, excessive alcohol, sugar, and inflammatory foods. Instead, eat a clean and healthy diet, filled with colorful anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins. Organic berries, leafy greens, avocado, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish are all great choices. Choose low-glycemic carbs, such as sweet potatoes, legumes, and quinoa.

5. Kill the Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs).

In order to reduce depression, anxiety, and negative thinking, you need to work on disciplining your mind to get rid of the ANTs. Our thoughts tell us things that are not true, a lot. Don’t believe them! Learn to replace stressful thoughts with more constructive, calming ones.

If you are a COVID long-hauler experiencing depressive symptoms, practicing any of these tips will help you to move in a more positive direction.

Post-COVID depression and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

7 Comments »

  1. It’s interesting to discuss the topic of a COVID-related depression because it’s such a new circumstance. Nonetheless, the ways that it can be managed aren’t terribly different from other forms of depression, which makes learning more about it that much easier.

    Comment by Carola Jain — March 18, 2022 @ 10:53 AM

  2. I have suffered from depression most of my adult life. I have certainly found that my depressive and anxiety symptoms have been significantly worse post Covid. As a LCSW I am treating more individuals for depression and anxiety as well. It is good to know that the traditional approaches work for this depression as well.

    Comment by Jacqueline Morrey — March 23, 2022 @ 10:03 AM

  3. I am currently on month 4 of Post-Covid Syndrome (long Covid). These findings are interesting; I had diagnoses of Anxiety and PTSD prior to Covid, but definitely noticed increased depression and insomnia (at night), although no problems napping during the day. I also had Autoimmune issues (Celiacs, Fibro) prior to Covid, but am feeling as if I am now in an Autoimmune flare x 2000. Many of the strategies indicated in the article are all things we know to do to support Immune health as well, so glad that I’m already on the right path, although it sure is going VERY slowly with recurring issues of unknown etiology

    Comment by Tanya M — March 23, 2022 @ 11:55 AM

  4. I never suffered with anxiety depression until after my COVID illness in 2021. I had a mild case of COVID ALMOST 1 YEAR AGO that did effect my taste and smell. I recovered from most symptoms about 2weeks after initial start of illness felling tired some brain fog as my worst symptom. A few weeks later, I started getting heart issues extreme shortness of breathe, insomnia, no appetite with major weight loss and extreme brain fog, PTSD from isolation and fear as I almost died alone at my home and experienced a near ‘death experience’ with oxygen at 82 and wasn’t able to call 911. Praying I was able to move after 7 hours of shortness of breathe and weakness that I couldn’t walk to get even my phone. I went to multiple specialists wore heart monitors and hospital visits with no answers of what has happened. Now, I’ve recovered from the above symptoms after taking high levels of turmeric, vitamin D, Omega 3 fish oils and probiotics from the heart and shortness of breathe and the insomnia is much better. I’m now battling severe depression off and on weekly, anxiety, brain fog 10 months later. After the virus, I never had my period again which put me now in full menopause earlier than normal. I’m so glad to read this article and hope to get help and be able to help others in need. We are all in this together but need this hope and healing. Any help and advise would be much appreciated!

    Comment by Meli D — April 8, 2022 @ 9:47 AM

  5. Yes, I agree with this that covid-19 causes a unique form of depression. In covid one of my close friends was suffering from depression and stress due to loneliness which also affect their mental health very badly but by getting his proper treatment now he is completely life and living his life happily.

    Comment by Mental Health Therapist — May 10, 2022 @ 3:19 AM

  6. Great Share!

    Its really difficult to understand covid related depression. This article covered all topic. But we can solve it little by self help guys, i am sharing you some tips it may help you
    1. Focus on people who lift you up
    2. Sleep Regularly
    3. Try to stay in present
    4. Follow Healthy Diet
    5. Engage yourself with work or reading books
    6. Find workable new goals

    Thanks,
    Sonali

    Comment by RYT.Life — June 1, 2022 @ 10:37 PM

  7. I finally got better with physical symptoms of Covid- itchy nose, itchy eyes, severe headaches, body aches, stomach problems, fatigue after minor exertions, but no brain fog. A few days ago, for no reason at all, I started to feel anxiety and depression. Can I get better without an anti-depressant?

    Comment by manna Geist — October 26, 2022 @ 8:13 AM

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