COVID Survivors Face Mental Health Challenges | Connecticut Public Radio
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COVID Survivors Face Mental Health Challenges

Sep 9, 2020

The physical symptoms of coronavirus are well known by now. But there's another effect that doctors are beginning to find in COVID-19 patients; depression and anxiety.

Newington resident Kathy Flaherty was already diagnosed with both. She started experiencing COVID symptoms in March.

"There were sometimes times where I thought I was going to die during this, physically, said Flaherty.  "I was out of breath so bad. The pain in my chest was so bad."

Her symptoms started at the beginning of the pandemic. She says at that point, it was impossible to get a COVID test. She was a presumptive positive case. When she finally was tested in May, the results were negative. A cough, fatigue and a burning in her lungs lingered.

Flaherty is the executive director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project. She is an advocate for disabled people affected by the coronavirus pandemic. She has battled with anxiety and depression for years. Now, she says she's noticing a new type of emotion, a lot of anger. 

"In terms of my mental health, I think I'm dealing with a lot of rage," said Flaherty.

Flaherty said it's fueled by the people who think the virus or her symptoms aren't real. There's also the frustration of lingering symptoms with no explanation.

Psychiatry specialist at Stamford Health Dr. Carl Mueller said having the virus can have a significant impact on a patient's mental health.

Dr. Carl Mueller says COVID patients can suffer from anxiety and depression after diagnosis
Credit Courtesy: Stamford Health

"There is nothing worse than anticipatory anxiety," said Mueller. "The fearfulness of what’s going to happen to you next. This is such an odd disorder. From people feeling like they have a small cold for a short period of time to chronic sense of isolation and this chronic sense of being sick." 

Mueller said a hospital stay with a serious illness will often change the way a person thinks.

"The psychological aspects of that are pretty profound," said Mueller. "The issue of what's important in my life."

Mueller said doctors also see COVID exacerbating preexisting conditions in patients already diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Flaherty believes she has a good handle on her preexisting conditions. What she's struggling to adjust to now is living out her life with continued symptoms.  

"It became clear to me fairly early this encounter with whatever was out there was going to result in some long physical aspect and it was clear I would have to adapt to the new normal." said Flaherty.

A study done by a doctor at the University of Indiana using the Facebook group Survivor Corps surveyed 1500 Covid survivors with lingering symptoms. Hundreds reported feeling anxiety and sadness.