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New studies show Long Covid is significantly impacting the mental health and alcohol use of patients

Almost one in five participants had moderate to severe depression one year on from their Covid infection and almost three-quarters had concerning alcohol use

Two new studies analysing the impact of Long Covid have found that complications persisting from the infection are primarily brain related, and not heart and lung conditions, as previously thought.

The studies, which took place in the Mater Hospital’s Long Covid Clinic in partnership with North Dublin GPs, have determined that psychological and psychiatric problems, such as anxiety and depression, are much more prevalent in Long Covid patients than in the general public. Patients with no previous history of depression or anxiety prior to their Covid-19 infection are now presenting to the clinic with neurological conditions.

Professor Jack Lambert, consultant in infectious diseases at the Mater Hospital and full clinical professor of medicine at the UCD School of Medicine received funding from the Health Research Board (HRB), to conduct a study on ‘Long Covid’ in May 2020. His associate Dr Brendan O’ Kelly, was funded through the UCD Newman Fellowship programme, to further investigate the impacts of Long Covid on individuals presenting to the clinic during the study period.

Professor Lambert said: “While during the ‘first wave’ of Covid-19 it was anticipated that the enduring complications of the infection would be primarily cardiac and pulmonary, our  research has clearly indicated this is not the case. Within just six months of commencing the study, it was evident that the long-term problems our patients are facing are neurological and neuropsychiatric.”

The study, which was conducted across 14 months with 155 participants found that:

  • 18.3% of participants had moderate to severe signs of depression for at least 1 year
  • 13% of participants had moderate to severe anxiety for at least 1 year
  • 21% of participants had findings consistent with PTSD for at least 1 year
  • 72% of participants had concerning alcohol use at 1 year

Dr O’Kelly said: “This study has raised significant concerns about the ongoing psychiatric symptoms and high levels of alcohol use among Long Covid populations. Clinical depression, anxiety and PTSD are serious debilitating illnesses, and they have also been seen more frequently among participants who had been hospitalised for acute Covid-19 or in those who had experienced lengthy ICU stays. More broadly, patients in this study with any symptoms at one year had significant impacts on their physical health and had reduced quality of life. It is important that these individuals are supported throughout the country and that clinicians and policymakers are mindful of these findings.”

Long Covid continues to impact a high proportion of Irish citizens, with a quarter of all patients presenting at the Covid-19 follow up clinic at the Mater Hospital still suffering from symptoms a year after their initial infection. Almost half (43 percent) of Long Covid patients still experienced considerable fatigue at the 12 month mark, with a third identifying difficulties concentrating and ‘brain fog.’

With symptoms continuing to present in patients across the country, Prof Lambert also called for further support to be rolled out throughout Ireland. He said: “There needs to be support for GPs in all regions of Ireland, in terms of training guidance and resourcing, to work in partnership with the Long Covid clinics so that all those who need it can access appropriate care.”

The studies are available online here and here.

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