The psychological impact of clinically significant cases of COVID-19 (i.e. those in which the person experiences symptoms significant enough to conclude that they have a disease because their quality of life is impaired) is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the pandemic, since it tends to focus on the physical alterations caused by this pathology.
However, studies on this subject show worrying data. So let’s see What do we know about the mental sequelae caused by the disease COVID-19.
Are there psychological consequences of COVID-19 disease?
A study carried out by researchers at San Rafael Hospital in Milan from the follow-up of 402 adult patients who passed COVID-19 showed that more than half of them (55%) suffered psychological consequences. Thus, 42% developed an anxiety problem, 40% went through a phase of insomnia, 28% suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, 31% became depressed and 20% presented symptoms attributable to the Disorder. obsessive compulsive.
Along the same lines, another study based on a meta-analysis of more than 70 research conducted in countries around the world showed that in the acute phase of patients treated in hospital with COVID-19 Symptoms such as depression (34%), anxiety (35%), memory problems (34.1%) and insomnia (41%) were relatively common.. In contrast, in the post-COVID-19 stage, it was also relatively common to have a psychological disorder, such as anxiety disorders (14.8%), depression (14.9%) and insomnia, 1%. ), memory problems (18.9%) and trauma (32.2%).
As we see, the most common disorders are both anxiety and depression, the two most common groups of psychopathologies in the general population (not just people with COVID-19) and others associated with fear and depression. the inability to break out of mental loops, such as OCD or insomnia; and also seem to highlight memory impairment, which often occurs in high stress situations.
What is the cause of these alterations? Some indications from previous studies show that several very important psychological disorders, such as depression, could have among their main causes the inflammatory processes that affect the organism for a relatively long period of time, as well as the alterations that affect the immune system: the body enters a state of “alert” in which the biological functions associated with a good mental state would be neglected to alleviate other more immediate problems.
However, it should not be forgotten that the way COVID-19 patients and those who have gone through this disease perceive and interpret things also has a lot to do with mental health and can lead to psychological problems.
So mismanaging the fear produced by the experience of hospitalization or home quarantine, for example, it can fuel the onset of anxiety disorders and insomnia, and inactivity linked to social isolation is a breeding ground for the onset of depression; in the same way, the fact of having gone through a phase where one fears for one’s own life or that of one’s loved ones (for the possibility of contagion) can also lead to a psychic trauma.
And of course, poor management of the fear of infection or worsening disease can trigger the symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (for example, causing the person to wash their hands constantly and in increasingly complex ways ).
In short, COVID-19 disease can have psychological consequences both for the way in which the person manages what happens to him and the way in which he is taken care of by health workers or his relatives, as for the possible triggers of an organic nature that alter the functioning of his organism. In other words, in many ways, psychological problems during and after COVID-19 do not have to be caused by the disease itself, but can be the product of psychological variables related to how the person experiences this situation. And this means that there is some leeway to ensure mental health through the realization of certain habits, exercises to modulate emotions and anxiety, routines to apply in personal relationships, etc.
So help people manage anxiety and distresssupporting them in times of illness so that they are not caught in the vicious circle of rumination, giving them guidelines and psychologically healthy lifestyles and preventing them from remaining in a state of total social isolation for several weeks is important in preventing and relieving the symptoms of the most common mental disorders.
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My name is Tomas Santa Cecilia and I am a psychologist specializing in the cognitive-behavioral model. I serve adults and teenagers, and also work collaboratively with businesses, offering both face-to-face sessions in my Madrid office and online via video call.