Long link of COVID to suicide: Scientists warn of a hidden crisis

Long link of COVID to suicide: Scientists warn of a hidden crisis

CHICAGO/LONDON, Sept 8 (Reuters) – Scott Taylor was never able to get over COVID-19.

The 56-year-old, who contracted the disease in the spring of 2020, had not yet recovered about 18 months later when he committed suicide at his home near Dallas after losing his health, memory and the money

“No one cares. No one wants to take the time to listen,” Taylor wrote in a final text to a friend, speaking of the plight of millions suffering from COVID, a disabling condition that can last months and years after infection initial.

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“I can hardly do laundry without complete exhaustion, pain, fatigue, pain up and down my spine. The world is spinning, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. I seem to say things and have no idea what I’m saying,” Taylor . added

Long-term COVID is a complex disease that can be difficult to diagnose because 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 World Health. organization

There are no authoritative data on the frequency of suicides among patients. Scientists from organizations including the US National Institutes of Health and Britain’s data collection agency are starting to look into a potential link after evidence of increased cases of depression and suicidal thoughts among people with Long COVID, as well as an increasing number of known deaths.

“I’m sure that for a long time, COVID has been associated with suicidal thoughts, with suicide attempts, with suicide plans and with the risk of death by suicide. We just don’t have the epidemiologic data,” said Leo Sher, a psychiatrist at the Mount Sinai Health System in New. York who studies mood disorders and suicidal behavior.

Among the key questions the researchers are examining: Is the risk of suicide among patients potentially increased because the virus is changing the biology of the brain? Or does the loss of their ability to function as they once did push people over the edge, as can happen with other long-term health conditions?

Sher said pain disorders in general were a very strong predictor of suicide, as was inflammation in the brain, which several studies have linked to long-term COVID.

“We have to take this seriously,” he added.

An analysis for Reuters by the Seattle-based health data company Truveta showed that patients with long-term COVID were almost twice as likely to receive an antidepressant prescription for the first time within 90 days of their initial diagnosis of COVID compared to people diagnosed with COVID only.

The analysis was based on data from 20 major U.S. hospital systems, including more than 1.3 million adults with a diagnosis of COVID and 19,000 with a long diagnosis of COVID between May 2020 and July 2022.

“WE DON’T KNOW THE EXTENSION”

The potential long-term effects of COVID-19 are poorly understood, with governments and scientists now beginning to systematically study the area as they emerge from a pandemic that blindsided much of the world.

Although many long-term COVID patients recover over time, about 15% still experience symptoms after 12 months, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). There is no proven treatment and the debilitating symptoms can leave sufferers unable to work.

The implications of a long relationship of COVID potentially with an increased risk of mental illness and suicide are serious; In the United States alone, the disease has affected as many as 23 million people, the US Government Accountability Office estimated in March.

Long COVID has also pushed roughly 4.5 million people out of work, equivalent to roughly 2.4 percent of the US labor force, employment expert Katie Bach of the Brookings Institution told Congress in July.

Worldwide, nearly 150 million people are estimated to have developed COVID during the first two years of the pandemic, according to the IHME.

In many developing countries, the lack of long-term COVID surveillance makes the picture even murkier, said Murad Khan, a professor of psychiatry at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, who is part of an international group of experts researching suicide risk related to COVID. -19.

“We have a big problem, but we don’t know the extent of the problem,” he said.

ACHIEVE THE WAY POINT

Time is a scarce commodity for a growing number of long-term COVID patients who say they are running out of hope and money, according to Reuters interviews with dozens of patients, family members and disease experts.

For Taylor, who lost his job selling genomic tests to doctors in a round of layoffs in the summer of 2020, the breaking point came when his insurance coverage through his former employer was set to expire and his application for Social Security benefits was denied, his family said.

“It was the joy that broke the camel’s back,” said his older brother Mark Taylor.

Heidi Ferrer, a 50-year-old television writer originally from Kansas, killed herself in May 2021 to escape the tremors and excruciating pain that left her unable to walk or sleep after contracting COVID more than a year earlier, she say her husband Nick Guthe.

Guthe, a filmmaker who has become an advocate for long-term COVID patients since his wife’s death, said that until last winter, he had not heard of other suicides within the patient network. lengths of COVID.

“Now they come weekly,” he added.

Survivor Corps, an advocacy group for long-term COVID patients, said it surveyed its members in May and found that 44 percent of the nearly 200 respondents said they had considered suicide.

Lauren Nichols, a board member of the long-term COVID support group Body Politic, said that through reaching out to family members on social media, she was aware of more than 50 people with long-term COVID who had killed themselves, although Reuters did not be able to confirm cases independently. .

Nichols, 34, a logistics specialist for the U.S. Department of Transportation in Boston, says she herself has considered suicide several times because of the long-running COVID, which she has suffered for more than two years.

Exit International advises English speakers on how to seek help with assisted dying in Switzerland, where euthanasia is legal with certain controls. Fiona Stewart, director, said the organisation, which does not track outcomes after giving advice, had received several dozen inquiries from long-term COVID patients during the pandemic and was now getting one a week.

LONG COVID AND OMICRON

The US National Institutes of Health is tracking mental health impacts as part of its $470 million long-running COVID RECOVER study. The first results on rates of anxiety and depression are expected in early September, but information on suicide will take longer, said lead researcher Dr. Stuart Katz.

“What we do know is that people with chronic illnesses are susceptible to suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and suicide completion,” said Richard Gallagher, associate professor of child psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, who is part of RECOVER.

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 toxic effects, in some ways, from the virus, and part of that will be inflammation,” he said.

Long-term COVID on average reduces overall health by 21%, similar to total deafness or a traumatic brain injury, the University of Washington IHME found.

While some experts expected Omicron to be less likely to cause prolonged COVID, official UK data released this month found that 34% of the country’s 2 million COVID sufferers developed their symptoms after an infection by Omicron.

A UK government advisory group is studying the risk of suicide for long-term COVID patients compared to the wider population, while the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is investigating whether it can pre-assess the risk of suicide from ‘a long patient with COVID as it does for people with other diseases, such as cancer.

“Health conditions that are incapacitating in the long term can increase the risk of suicide, hence the long-term concern about COVID,” said Louis Appleby, professor of psychiatry at the University of Manchester and an adviser to the UK government. .

In fact, research in Britain and Spain found a six-fold higher risk of suicide among patients with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), another post-viral illness with symptoms similar to long-term COVID, compared with the general population.

Britain’s network of long-term COVID treatment centers is also drastically oversubscribed, adding to a sense of hopelessness for some; in June, the latest month on record, only a third of patients received an appointment within six weeks of being referred by their local doctor, and another third had to wait more than 15 weeks.

Ruth Oshikanlu, a former midwife and health visitor in London turned pregnancy coach, said her long-term health problems from COVID combined to push her close to the edge. When his business folded temporarily due to debt problems after struggling to work, he felt his life was over.

“I was crying at the accountant, and the guy kept me on hold – I think he didn’t want to be the last person to talk to me,” the 48-year-old recalled.

“What COVID gives you is a lot of time to think,” he said. “I didn’t think about ending it, thankfully for my son. But I do know a lot of people who have had those suicidal thoughts.”

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Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago and Jennifer Rigby in London; Edited by Michele Gershberg and Pravin Char

Our standards: the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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