Introduction to the indirect effects
So, Covid-19 and mental health. In the previous post, we talked thoroughly about the direct effects of Covid-19 on the brain. We saw how SARS-Cov-2 manages to penetrate the brain and cause damage, leading to severe neurological issues and even depression. As we mentioned back then, to understand the relation between Covid-19 and mental health we need to examine two main questions:
- What are the direct effects of Covid-19 on the brain and mental health?
- What are the indirect effects of Covid-19 on the brain and mental health?
The one is already answered (if you haven’t read it yet, do it now!). In this post, we are going to reveal the indirect effects that might Covid-19 have on the brain and mental health.
A careful approach
Switching to the effects of restrictive measures, we must be careful about the kind of approach we employ in the study. In contrast to the biological question of the previous post, here there are many more variables that play an important role and hence modify the results, making them less reliable, if not treated properly.
Even though quarantine, social distancing, and other restrictive measures appear to be good reasons for causing issues in mental health, still it’s difficult and tricky to give results and conclusions about their effects.
Let’s dig in
The first distinction we could make involves data gathered from European countries; from those with the most severe measures, such as Germany, to those with the mildest measures, like Lithuania. It appears that exposure to lockdown did not significantly increase the cases of mental health issues. Less than a fifth of the adult population showed signs of depression and anxiety.1,2
As might be expected, though, the risk was higher for those who for any reason were staying alone at home. For instance, those who were not married and were passing their days lonely had tougher times than people who had company. Hard times, also had, and still have the ones who were subject to stressing factors like the unemployed ones and people with lower income or any disadvantaged setting.2
Moreover, if we conversely look at adolescents and children, we discover that for 70.2% of them, mental health conditions have worsened in at least one of the following categories: depression, anxiety, compulsions, and irritability. In particular, the deterioration of such issues was related to the presence of pre-COVID conditions of the same kind. Social isolation and ethnicity are the major factors in this aggravation.3
A foggy landscape
Generally, we could say that the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on our lives. For the sake of the truth, it is observed a major increase in the number of U.S. citizens who report symptoms of stress, insomnia, anxiety, and even depression during the pandemic, compared with the times before the pandemic. Something that could be proof of this statement, it’s the increase in the use of substances (alcohol and prescription and non-prescription drugs) during the last year.4
But, as you can see, we cannot have a lot of clear evidence about the indirect effects of Covid-19 on mental health. However, by combining the two scenarios (direct and indirect effects), we can see that the risk of developing neurological issues after the infection by COVID-19 is non-negligible. This is why scientists collected lots of data to give an indicative percentage that measures these manifestations.5
Such papers prove that fatigue (58%), headaches (44%), and attention disorders (27%) are among the most probable long-term effects; while anxiety (13%), depression (12%), sleep disorders (11%) and psychiatric illnesses (6%) tend to last less. The good news is that has been observed severe depression lasting more than twelve weeks only in a small number of cases (3% – 12%).5,6
To sum up the two posts, we could say that Covid-19 seems to have some effects on mental health either direct or indirect. The effects, though, don’t last for long periods and are usually reversible.
The truth, though, is that Covid-19 has changed completely our lives. I, personally, experienced a lot of ups and downs in my mental health over the last two years. I have no idea if Covid-19/pandemic was the reason for that, even though, I was infected twice with Covid-19. However, I strongly believe that the paranoia of the past years contributed to my any piccolo mental issues. And so did to many other people.
- Perelman J, Xavier M, Barros PP. How do European Mature Adults and Elderly Perceive SARS-COV-2 and Associated Control Measures? A Cross-Country Analysis of Mental Health Symptoms in June and July 2020.
- Bleakney A, Masoud H, Robertson H. Labour market impacts of COVID-19 on Indigenous people: March to August 2020.
- Cost KT, Crosbie J, Anagnostou E, et al. Mostly worse, occasionally better: impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of Canadian children and adolescents.
- Czeisler M. et al. Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Lopez-Leon S, Wegman-Ostrosky T, Perelman C, et al. More than 50 long-term effects of COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
- Douaud G, Lee S, Alfaro-Almagro F, et al. SARS-CoV-2 is associated with changes in brain structure in UK Biobank.