Long COVID & Mental Health

A few months ago, I was visiting my daughter and granddaughter in Dallas. Delighted to hold my second-generation progeny, I immediately picked her up for a hug. “Whoa,” I exclaimed as a familiar and unpleasant scent engulfed my nose. “She’s pretty ripe!”

“What do you mean?” my daughter asked, genuine puzzlement on her face.

Until that moment, I hadn’t realized the extent of the symptoms of Long COVID that my daughter was experiencing. It hadn’t been a particularly severe infection, yet, months after her acute symptoms had cleared, she remained unable to smell and was still experiencing “brain fog.”

Understanding Long COVID 

Long COVID encompasses a wide range of symptoms that persist for weeks or months after the initial infection. These symptoms can include fatigue, shortness of breath, joint pain, and cognitive issues like “brain fog.” The chronic nature of these symptoms can lead to severe mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and social isolation.

Initially, the CDC thought that only one in thirteen patients who had contracted COVID would experience Long COVID. New evidence suggests that about 10-30% of people who recover from COVID experience Long COVID. Some estimates suggest even higher rates, particularly among those who were hospitalized.

The role of mental health therapists

Unfortunately, this is such a new illness that specific treatments for Long COVID have not yet been developed. But, as a therapists, we can do a lot to keep our clients from making a bad situation worse.

Supporting clients with Long COVID requires a compassionate, informed, and holistic approach. By validating their experiences and fostering a supportive network, we can help them navigate this challenging condition, manage their symptoms, and improve their quality of life.

How therapists can support clients with Long COVID

  • Help them set realistic and attainable goals for their recovery, focusing on small, manageable steps to improve their sense of control and progress.
  • Teach them strategies to manage cognitive impairments, such as using planners, setting reminders, and breaking tasks into smaller steps.
  • Incorporate mindfulness practices and meditation into therapy sessions to help them manage stress and anxiety.
  • Organize support groups for clients with long COVID, so they have a safe space to share their experiences.
  • Focus on building resilience by highlighting their strengths and past successes in overcoming adversity.
  • Develop tailored treatment plans that address the unique needs and symptoms of each client, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based therapies, and other evidence-based interventions.
  • Help clients navigate the healthcare system, so they can access the necessary services and receive accommodations at work/school if needed.

Perhaps we will soon find the permanent cure. Until then, we can do what I attempted to do for my daughter that day - support, instill hope, and soothe.

Stay well,

Dr. Bill Whitehead

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