Ticks and Lyme Disease—A Dangerous Duo for Mental Health

Ticks and Lyme Disease

Ticks—those tiny, 8-legged, spider-like bugs—can pack a debilitating punch when they bite humans. The reason? They can transmit serious illnesses to us because they feed on the blood of animals that can carry infectious diseases. As small as they are, the power of a tick bite can cause a wide range of physical, psychiatric, and neurological symptoms that might even become fatal for some people.

Known as vector-borne diseases—meaning transmission from animal to animal or animal to humans—9 tick species in the U.S. are known to transmit 16 diseases to us, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, Powassan virus, and the most notorious—Lyme disease. Alarming new research shows that having Lyme disease increases the risk not only for mental health issues but also for suicide attempts, indicating that Lyme disease can have life-or-death consequences.

Alarming new research shows that having Lyme disease increases the risk not only for mental health issues but also for suicide attempts, indicating that Lyme disease can have life-or-death consequences. Click To Tweet

How Do You Get Lyme Disease?

The blacklegged tick (also known as a deer tick) which can be found throughout the eastern half of the country and the Western blacklegged tick along the Pacific coast are carriers of the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease. They tend to hang out in leaf debris on the ground, in wooded areas, and on the tops of tall grasses where they can easily latch onto your skin or clothing (they have claws at the bottom of their legs!) as you pass by—or hitch a ride on your dog. Once they find a potential host, ticks gravitate to the warm moist areas of the body and, unbeknownst to you, can burrow into your skin to feed on your blood.

People often don’t know that they’ve been bitten, either because they don’t notice or feel the tick—ones in the nymph stage are the size of poppy seeds—or there is no tell-tale bullseye left behind. Nonetheless, if the tick is a carrier of the bacteria, it will infect you within 36-48 hours. Then, in as few as 3 days or as many as 30 or more, flu-like symptoms, along with a rash or swollen lymph nodes will start to develop, and eventually so can problems such as these:

  • Facial palsy
  • Limb and nerve pain
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Racing heart or irregular heartbeat
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, thereby affecting the central nervous system

Lyme Disease is the “Great Imitator”

Although treatment with antibiotics ASAP can usually alleviate symptoms, the blood tests for Lyme disease are challenging because the antibodies might not develop until a few weeks after infection. Furthermore, without knowing that you’ve been bitten by a tick and because the infectious bacteria can affect the brain, many of the symptoms mimic a host of other disorders, so the possibility of you having Lyme disease might be completely overlooked by a doctor.

The additional symptoms can resemble those of neurological disorders like:

as well as psychiatric conditions such as:

In a new study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers analyzed Denmark’s patient register databases from 1994 – 2016. They found that those with Lyme disease (more than 12,000 patients) had a considerably increased risk for mental health disorders and suicide attempts, compared to patients who did not have Lyme.

Another research paper that studied the link between tick-borne diseases, including Lyme, and suicide was published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. The researchers postulated that the unexplained suicides were associated with the significant psychiatric and other debilitating symptoms from Lyme disease along with dismissive attitudes that healthcare providers and family or friends had about the disease being the underlying cause of the patients’ symptoms.

Lyme Bacteria Can be Elusive

What makes Lyme disease even more complicated and potentially hard to detect is that the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria can become dormant for months—or even years—in the central nervous system. Moreover, it is a type of pathogen known as a spirochete [pronounced SPY-roh-kete] that can imbed itself in cell membranes, including those in the brain, making it even more difficult to detect. However, the subsequent inflammation and immune response affect multiple systems in the body and lead to so many challenging mental and physical symptoms. Unfortunately, because symptoms can manifest even long after a tick bite, it can be very difficult to connect the dots back to the root cause.

Keeping Safe from Tick Bites

Most people enjoy spending time in the great outdoors; it’s so beneficial for our physical and mental well-being. However, ticks of all sorts are part of our natural world. Despite the havoc they can wreak on human health, believe it or not, they actually serve an important ecological purpose. Birds, lizards, frogs, and other critters eat them, while ticks feed on and spread diseases that kill sick or weakened animals to help control their populations.

Since eliminating ticks from the environment isn’t viable, keeping yourself safe from them is the best course of action. In order to do this it’s important to understand and avoid potential tick habitats—or if you are venturing into them for a hike or trip to the beach—it’s critical to know and follow your state or local guidelines for the prevention of tick-borne illnesses.

If you think you may have gotten Lyme disease, it can be very helpful to schedule an appointment with a functional medicine physician who is Lyme-literate and well-versed in the best treatments that can lead to optimal recovery from the infection and its symptoms. Similarly, if you’re struggling with cognitive or mental health issues that aren’t responding to treatment, it may be time to investigate if infection like Lyme disease may be contributing to your symptoms.

Symptoms of Lyme disease can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

19 Comments

  1. What is the best treatment?

    Comment by thomas helotes — October 4, 2021 @ 3:52 AM

  2. Can you be more specific? Are you referring to those who were treated or those who were not treated with antibiotics or both?
    Thanks

    Comment by Mindie — October 4, 2021 @ 4:01 AM

  3. Do you treat chronic Lyme at Amen Clinics? If so, what type of treatment do you offer?

    Comment by angela grey — October 4, 2021 @ 4:31 AM

  4. I had Lyme 24 yrs ago! I pulled a tick off, had bulls eye rash & suffered greatly with many variances!
    Through the years I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, arthritis,chronic fatigue,celiac disease, & now, MS. I was very healthy until the tick bite (which was not diagnosed for three months. I truly believe all of this stemmed from Lyme!

    Comment by Linda Smith — October 4, 2021 @ 5:07 AM

  5. There are deer ticks in Colorado also. Hopefully the CDC will start to recognize this. I got Lyme disease in August 2017 in Boulder County. I had classic symptoms, fever, body ache, swollen Lymph nodes, severe headache and stiff neck, and erythema migrans . I was initially misdiagnosed in the ED of a local hospital. I luckily connected with a Lyme literate Doctor and caught it in the acute stage and was treated properly with 6 weeks of antibiotics and supplements to support immune system , detox and gut function. Two years later my husband and I found deer ticks (not wood ticks) again but were not bitten. Our Doctor confirmed they were indeed deer ticks.

    Comment by Michelle Haynes — October 4, 2021 @ 7:11 AM

  6. Do you treat nuero lyne plus concussions plus med overtreatment polydrugged

    Comment by JOY MAGEE — October 4, 2021 @ 8:12 AM

  7. My teenage son , who was diagnosed with Lyme, shared his suicidal thoughts. It was so unlike him, and it was like a grey cloud over him every day. Many times during treatment he said doing x makes me want to live. After treatment at Amen, with psychological support it took years for him to mentally work through to balance. Lyme wants to take your person away…hang in there, you love them more and will win – never stop!

    Comment by teresa conville — October 4, 2021 @ 8:33 AM

  8. I have had Lyme diagnosis 3 times and been treated 3 times with antibiotics.Also have used Hyper Baric chamber HBOT .

    I HAVE anxiety ,depression, and other Mental disorders. Could Lyme disease be a factor. I am a VietNam war Veteran.
    Thank you for all your good work!

    Comment by Danny Moyer — October 4, 2021 @ 9:13 AM

  9. Thanks for another great article.

    Comment by Timothy Lee — October 4, 2021 @ 9:18 AM

  10. Hi Angela, thank you for reaching out. At Amen Clinics, we do treat Lyme disease. All treatment and services that we offer can be found here: https://www.amenclinics.com/services/. For more information about the treatment and services that we offer or about scheduling an appointment, please contact our Care Coordinators at: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/

    Comment by Amen Clinics — October 4, 2021 @ 10:55 AM

  11. Lyme disease can be fatal. When you say that because of increased risk of suicide Lyme “may have life and death consequences” you are disregarding the possibility of fatal outcome not due to suicide from improperly treated Lyme .

    Comment by Laura Wittke — October 4, 2021 @ 11:40 AM

  12. Hello,
    Thank you so much for posting this. I was bitten by two ticks. One on knee, I was able to remove. Unaware that there was a tick on groin, a week or so later found a Bull’s eye deep red and no idea what the heck it could be. Until I took pictures in wonder as to why this was still there a couple weeks later and not healed. This Labor Day weekend I began to feel flu like symptoms and gastrointestinal issues like non stop spasms in intestines and colon when I didn’t even have to go. Since then, I have been in and out of emergency room 4 times in a matter of a few weeks. Every nurse and primary doctor and ED doctors had no clue. All of my blood work and imaging was “normal” and great. Over and over I was told “it is just your anxiety. “ My blood pressure was through the roof, heart rate 110 my toes just my toes were freezing cold and tingling and so were my fingers and a non stop burning sensation in cerebellum and lower back brain adjacent to mastoid and it traveled from frontal lobe then to back of brain. Loss of muscle control had twitches and muscle spasms and swollen glands along neck and extreme fatigue muscle weakness. All the symptoms for peripheral neuropathy were there along with tick paralysis. I was just released from hospital two weeks ago and they put me on two weeks doxycycline. Infectious disease will not see me or follow up with me as they said Lyme disease showed up negative and they do not treat for this. I have tomorrow and Wednesday morning to go for the doxycycline. Primary doctor today said “that’s it you are done, there is no other tests no other treatment this is it, so infectious disease can’t do anything more”. Good news, I can finally walk by myself slowly not very far, still big improvement from before. I no longer have twitches or uncontrollable shakiness, I can fall asleep without my entire body jerking and twitching and waking me up the burning sensation has subsided. Tingling is gone. Currently have neck stiffness sternocleidomastoid muscle, puffy jaws and swollen glands along neck and nausea. This comes and goes. I have good days of just muscle weakness and fatigue and nausea here and there. And other days and nights where the fatigue is so much and the sensation in back of brain left cerebellum area and cervical spine and side of neck leave me bed ridden and restless, the inability to fall asleep at all because of the discomfort. Today was a good day. I hope for the same tomorrow. With only one day left of antibiotics, I pray I can put this behind me. My MRA was taken mid treatment with doxycycline and showed few scattered white FlAIR. I was told this is great and completely normal. Please advise.

    Comment by Jana Anderson — October 4, 2021 @ 7:00 PM

  13. Does AMEN accept Blue Cross insurance and also Iowa Medicaid-Iowa total care?

    Comment by Amy — October 5, 2021 @ 4:33 PM

  14. Appreciate your article, but some of this is really not accurate. Lyme disease can lie dormant much longer than 30 days. It can be years. Doctors treating for Lyme actually feel like it can take a major stressor or a different sickness to basically awaken it from being dormant. So, your system may have been fighting it off until that moment. Or, you may have had a slow progression, until it really sets in.

    Comment by Isabel — October 5, 2021 @ 8:01 PM

  15. re: Lyme disease and years later still trying to recover while coping with the damage.
    I have a great functional Lyme doctor (Alan Vinitsky ) in Rockville MD – but I am doing
    worse and worse after all these years of having been (intentionally?) misdiagnosed by the
    CDC and trying to play catchup with late-stage Lyme, biotoxin illness, many co-infections,
    the problems now with ANS and neuropathy, enteric NS, etc.. Lyme also wiped away all my feel good
    hormones which didn’t affect me for years but now as I see my life involve and collapse in all aspects
    as I’m able to do very little and spend so much time really suffering (horrible sleeplessness for months
    etc), I feel I’m just getting very depressed, with bouts of anger.. For so many years I was enthusiastic and
    hopeful and felt my inner life was progressing, my dreams were deep and spiritual. Now I feel I’ve stopped
    progressing in any meaningful way in life — my dreams are only about toxicity and fear and catchup and loss.
    I’m wondering what kind of services you might provide or suggest at this stage… Now I’m 73 and I’ve lived
    exactly half my life with this horrible condition, which I can only describe as playing whack-a-mole with rangies
    of symptoms never-ending.

    Comment by Amy Wilson — October 6, 2021 @ 9:47 AM

  16. Hello Amy, thank you for reaching out. For more information about cost, insurance and financing options, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — October 6, 2021 @ 7:04 PM

  17. As author Robert Hitt Neill, I’ve done a lot of writing and research on Lyme, for I was an undiagnosed victim for 11 years . Conservation Magazine assigned me a Lyme article in 1988, and in doing the research I realized I had all those symptoms. Took me months to find a doctor who would recognize, diagnose, and treat me. For 25 years I wrote a weekly syndicated newspaper column (in addition to 14 books & 2000 magazine articles), and wrote about Lyme 3 or 4 times a year, which always generated a lot of feedback. That Mobile doctor told me last spring that I had sent him over 500 Lyme patients since 1990. Y’all failed to mention a companion disease, Babesyosis, which causes anemia, which almost killed me. Also, the Lyme spirochete bacteria has been found in every blood-sucking insect, including fleas, mosquitoes, horseflies, bedbugs, etc. Ticks are such a perfect vector because they can carry the infected blood in their system for up to three weeks. I appreciate your efforts to promote awareness of Lyme, which has been identified in all 50 states, and is active in Europe as well. If I can be of service, let me know.
    Robert Hitt Neill
    Sumner, Mississippi

    Comment by Robert — October 11, 2021 @ 3:14 PM

  18. I’m still learning from you, but I’m trying to reach my goals. I absolutely enjoy reading all that is posted on your blog.Keep the stories coming. I liked it!

    Comment by Going Here — October 14, 2021 @ 5:09 AM

  19. My daughter had misdiagnose for 20 years , she is now 42 and still suffering. Her 2 children were BORN with LYME. No joke they are suffering also. But they have good treatment as it was caught right away.
    Thats a new one that no one would believe but it is TRUE.
    We need more Doctors to believe!!

    Comment by Diane — October 15, 2021 @ 3:24 PM

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