Stress, anxiety or depression before COVID-19 might increase the risk of long COVID, says Harvard study

28 September 2022
Nikitha Warriar Written by Nikitha Warriar
Nikitha Warriar

Nikitha Warriar

Nikitha Warriar writes a lot on healthcare and wellness. She is also one of LifeWordsmith’s...

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People living with anxiety, depression, loneliness, or stress before COVID are at a higher risk of developing long COVID, according to Harvard researchers.

A paper published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that people who reported psychological distress, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, worry, perceived stress, and loneliness, before they got infected were at 32% to 46% increased risk of developing long COVID. 

Researchers enrolled 54,960 participants who were not infected by the virus at the beginning of the study in April 2020. Over the course of the following year, over 3,000 reported being infected by COVID. Around 86.9% participants reported symptoms lasting 2 months or longer while 55.8% experienced occasional daily life impairment as a consequence of the infection.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first prospective study to show that a wide range of social and psychological factors are risk factors for long COVID and daily life impairment due to long COVID,” said Andrea Roberts, senior research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the JAMA Psychiatry paper in a Harvard press release.

It was found that participants with distress at the baseline reported a significant number of symptoms of the post-COVID-19 condition. The most common symptoms reported were fatigue, loss of smell or taste, shortness of breath, brain fog, and memory issues. 

Those with two or more types of distress were found to be at around 50% more risk for long COVID than those who did not experience a high level of distress. 

“We were surprised by how strongly psychological distress before a COVID-19 infection was associated with an increased risk of long COVID. Distress was more strongly associated with developing long COVID than physical health risk factors such as obesity, asthma, and hypertension,” concludes Siwen Wang, a researcher in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School who led the study, in the Harvard Gazette.

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