© Reuters Lauren Nichols, a long-term Covid patient, takes a break from work to read her blood oxygen level and heart rate with a machine on her finger, at her home in Andover, Massachusetts, U.S., August 3, 2022.
By Julie Steenhuizen and Jennifer Rigby
CHICAGO/LONDON (Reuters) – Scott Taylor never got over Covid-19.
In the year The 56-year-old, who was diagnosed with the disease in spring 2020, still hasn’t recovered nearly 18 months after taking his own life at his home near Dallas, losing his health, memory and money.
“No one cares. No one wants to take the time to listen,” Taylor wrote to a friend in a final text. Primary infection.
“Complete fatigue, pain, exhaustion, pain all up and down my spine. I can’t wash without it. The world spins. Dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. I don’t think I can say things and know what I’m talking about.” Added.
Long covid is a complex health condition that is difficult to identify because it has more than 200 symptoms – some of which can resemble other diseases – from fatigue and cognitive impairment to pain, fever and heart rhythm organization.
There is no authoritative data on the frequency of suicide among victims. A number of scientists from organizations including the US National Institutes of Health and Britain’s National Intelligence Agency have begun studying a possible link between depression and suicidal thoughts in people with prolonged Covid, as well as the rising death toll.
“I’m convinced long-term covid is associated with suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, suicide plans and suicide risk,” said Leo Scheer, MD, a psychiatrist at Mount Sinai Health System, New York, who studies mood disorders and suicidal behavior.
Among the key questions researchers are now investigating: Will the risk of suicide increase among patients because the virus is changing the biology of the brain? Or is it the inability to function that once pushed people to the brink, as can other long-term health conditions?
Scher said pain disorders are generally a strong predictor of suicide, as is inflammation in the brain, which many studies have linked to long-term COVID.
“We have to take this seriously,” he added.
According to a Reuters analysis by Seattle-based health information firm Truveta, patients with prolonged covid were twice as likely to receive their first antidepressant prescription within 90 days compared to those with only covid.
The analysis is based on data from 20 major United States hospital systems with more than 1.3 million people with a Covid diagnosis and 19,000 long-term Covid diagnoses between May 2020 and July 2022.
“We don’t know the size.”
The long-term effects of COVID-19 are poorly understood, with governments and scientists only beginning to systematically study the environment as they emerge from the pandemic that blinded much of the world.
According to the Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), while many long-term Covid patients recover over time, 15% still experience symptoms 12 months later. There is no proven treatment and the debilitating symptoms leave patients unable to work.
Implications of prolonged covid linked to higher rates of mental illness and suicide are dire. In the US alone, the disease has affected as many as 23 million people, the US Government Accountability Office estimated in March.
Long-term Covid-19 has also pushed nearly 4.5 million people out of work, the equivalent of the U.S. workforce, Katie Bach, an employment expert at the Brookings Institution, told Congress in July.
Globally, around 150 million people are estimated to have had prolonged Covid-19 in the first two years of the outbreak, according to the IHME.
The lack of long-term surveillance of COVID in many developing countries has further clouded the picture, said Murad Khan, a professor of psychiatry at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, who is part of an international panel of experts studying the risk of suicide linked to Covid. -19.
“We have a big problem, but we don’t know the extent of the problem,” he said.
A Reuters interview with several dozen patients, family members and pathologists said it was a rare commodity for the growing number of COVID-19 patients who say they are running out of time, hope and money.
In the year For Taylor, who lost his job selling genomic tests to doctors in a cutback in the summer of 2020, the worst came when his insurance coverage through his former employer expired and his application for Social Security benefits was denied. The family said.
“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said his older brother, Mark Taylor.
TV screenwriter Heidi Ferrer, 50, killed herself in May 2021 to escape the convulsions and severe pain that left her unable to walk or sleep after contracting Covid-19 a year ago, her husband Nick Gutte said.
Filmmaker Gute, who has been an advocate for long-term Covid sufferers since his wife’s death, said he had not heard of other suicides in his long network of Covid patients until this summer.
“They’re coming every week now,” he added.
Survivor Corps, an advocacy group for chronic Covid patients, said it surveyed its members in May and found that 44% of the 200 respondents had considered suicide.
Lauren Nichols, a board member of the long-term COVID support group Body Politics, said she knows of more than 50 long-term Covid-19 sufferers who have taken their own lives after connecting with family members on social media, although Reuters could not independently verify the cases.
Nichols, 34, a logistics specialist for the United States Department of Transportation in Boston, said she often thought about suicide as a result of her more than two years of prolonged COVID-19.
Exit International advises English speakers on how to seek assisted dying in Switzerland, where euthanasia is legal in certain jurisdictions. Director Fiona Stewart said the organization, which does not track outcomes after counseling, received dozens of inquiries from long-term COVID patients during the outbreak and is now receiving one a week.
Long covid and Omcron.
The US National Institutes of Health is tracking mental health impacts as part of a $470 million recovery study on chronic Covid. Early results on anxiety and depression are expected in early September, but data on suicide will take more time, said Dr. Stuart Katz, lead researcher.
“We know that people with chronic pain are more likely to have suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and suicide attempts,” said Richard Gallagher, MD, associate professor of child psychiatry at New Langone Health, part of RECOVER.
On the question of whether the virus changes the brain, Gallagher said there is some evidence that COVID can cause brain swelling — linked to suicide and depression — even in people with relatively mild disease.
“In some ways, there may be toxic effects of the virus, and part of it is inflammation,” he said.
Prolonged Covid reduces overall health by 21% on average – the same as total hearing loss or traumatic brain injury, the University of Washington IHME found.
Although some experts believe Omicron is less likely to cause long-term Covid, official UK data released this month showed that 34% of the country’s 2 million long-term Covid patients developed symptoms after an Omicron infection.
A British government advisory group is studying the suicide risk of long-term COVID patients compared to the general population, and the country’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) is investigating whether it can predict the suicide risk of a long-term COVID patient in the same way as other people. Diseases like cancer.
Louis Appleby, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Manchester and an adviser to the UK government, said: “Long-term disabling health conditions may increase the risk of suicide, hence the long-term risk of Covid.”
Indeed, studies in Britain and Spain found a six-fold increase in the risk of suicide among patients with myalgic encephalitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), who had long-term symptoms similar to Covid-19.
Britain’s network of long-term Covid treatment centers is heavily overbooked, adding to the despair for some. In June, the last month on record, only a third of patients received an appointment within six weeks of being referred by their local doctor, while another third had to wait more than 15 weeks.
Ruth Oshikanlu, a former midwife and health visitor in London turned pregnancy coach, has been pushed to the brink by long-term Covid health problems. After struggling to make ends meet, when her career folded due to debt issues, she felt her life was over.
“I was crying to the accountant, and the guy put me on hold – I think he didn’t want to be the last person to talk to me,” the 48-year-old recalled.
“Covid gives you a lot of time to think,” she said. “I didn’t intend to finish the tribute because of my son. But I know so many people who have had those suicidal thoughts.”