Substance abuse

Long Covid’s Mental Health Ills Draw Targeted Response From HHS

Long Covid patients’ mental health struggles are getting a sharper focus under a Biden administration initiative unveiled Wednesday.

Anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, fatigue, and post-traumatic stress disorder are among the mental health conditions associated with long Covid, according to the Biden administration’s Health and Human Services Department. The HHS is aiming to help medical providers better pinpoint and treat the mental health struggles of people with long Covid.

“Long COVID has a range of burdensome physical symptoms, and can take a toll on a person’s mental health. It can be very challenging for a person, whether they are impacted themselves, or they are a caregiver for someone who is affected,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

“This advisory helps to raise awareness, especially among primary care practitioners and clinicians who are often the ones treating patients with Long COVID,” he said.

The administration released an advisory that lays out long Covid’s mental health conditions and symptoms and provides physicians with a resource for treating and assessing patients. It also includes tips for primary care providers to help patients, including information on mental health services and referrals for therapeutic services like psychotherapy and peer support groups.

The HHS advisory said long Covid can affect mental health due to things like social isolation, financial security, and chronic illness. The advisory also noted that things like a person’s neighborhood, workplace, and access to care can worsen the impact of long Covid, particularly for minorities and LGBTQ individuals.

KFF data has found the number of people who report having long Covid symptoms has been declining. In January of this year, that number was a little over 10% of those who had ever had long Covid. In 2022, the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention found that almost one in five adults in the US had long Covid symptoms.

The advisory, released through the HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, also found that people with a history of anxiety, stress, loneliness, and depression prior to being diagnosed with Covid had a higher risk for long Covid.

Over 40% of adults with long Covid had reported symptoms of depression six months after the start of Covid-19 symptoms, the advisory said. Anxiety was reported by 35% of adults at the half-year point.

People suffering from long Covid have said that medical professionals often struggle with treatment, let alone understand it.

“Providers need help understanding what Long COVID is and how to treat it,” HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine said in a statement.

Likewise, SAMHSA leader Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon said in a statement that “people with Long COVID need to be properly identified and, as needed, referred for treatment for mental health conditions.”

Critics of the Biden administration’s approach to long Covid have said it isn’t transparent or fast enough. However, Levine recently noted that the HHS would begin long Covid clinical trials later this year.

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