Long COVID's Link to Suicide: Scientists Warn of Hidden Crisis
Long COVID is a complex medical condition that can be hard to diagnose as it has a range of more than 200 symptoms - some of which can resemble other illnesses - from exhaustion and cognitive impairment to pain, fever and heart palpitations, according to the World Health Organization.
While many long COVID patients recover over time, around 15% still experience symptoms after 12 months, according to the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). There's no proven treatment and debilitating symptoms can leave sufferers unable to work.
An analysis for Reuters conducted by Seattle-based health data firm Truveta showed that patients with long COVID were nearly twice as likely to receive a first-time antidepressant prescription within 90 days of their initial COVID diagnosis compared with people diagnosed with COVID alone.
On the question of whether the virus changes the brain, Gallagher said there was some evidence that COVID can cause brain inflammation - which has been linked to suicide and depression - even among people who had relatively mild disease.
"There may be direct, in some ways, toxic effects of the virus, and part of it will be inflammation," he said.
Long COVID on average reduces overall health by 21% - similar to total deafness or a traumatic brain injury, the University of Washington's IHME found.