A major study, supported by mental health research charity MQ, has found that five months after leaving hospital for COVID-19 treatment, a significant number of people are reporting symptoms of mental health problems.
In addition, many patients, predominantly older men, reported an ongoing ‘brain fog’, which is reduced short-term memory and slowed thought.
Professor Chris Brightling, a professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Leicester and the chief investigator for the PHOSP-COVID study, commented that these results highlight the need for post-COVID-19 care to include mental health services.
Lea Milligan, MQ’s CEO added: “We have been facing a growing epidemic of mental illness, even before COVID-19 struck. This is now a second pandemic and we urgently need further research so we know the true impact and can develop better treatments.”
Could ‘long Covid’ become the biggest return-to-work challenge?
The UK wide PHOSP-COVID study – whose results have been released as a pre-publication which has yet to be peer-reviewed – analysed 1077 patients who were discharged from hospital between March and November following an episode of COVID-19.
The study found that mental health and cognitive abilities were not the only long-term negative health impact many survivors experienced.
The majority of people surveyed had not fully recovered from their physical symptoms five months after discharge, with some people experiencing issues so severe they were now considered to have a disability.
Importantly, the study found elevated levels of a systemic inflammation – C-reactive protein (CRP) – in all but the mildest of cases. Previous research has found that such autoimmunity, where the body has an immune response to its own healthy cells and organs, is more common in middle-aged women. This might explain why this group of people showed the most persistent ongoing symptoms.
This ties in with recent widely reported estimates from the Office of National Statistics that in the UK, 1.1million people in the community had ongoing symptoms – or “long Covid” in the four weeks to 6 March, after contracting the disease at least three months beforehand.
Professor Brightling said: “While the profile of patients being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 is disproportionately male and from an ethnic minority background, our study finds that those who have the most severe prolonged symptoms tend to be white women aged approximately 40 to 60 who have at least two long term health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes.”
What employers can do to support colleagues with Long Covid
The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) has published guidance on returning to work after Covid-19 and long Covid.
The leaflet offers advice from the occupational health community on topics including what employees should do if they develop symptoms of Covid-19; what needs to be discussed with their manager if they are off work for a longer period; what managers’ responsibilities are; and what medical clearances or adjustments may be needed to enable a return to work.
It also outlines how Occupational Health can help an employee when they go back to work, as well as examples of some of the rehabilitation support services employers may provide, such as counselling helplines or occupational therapy.
Finally, it reminds employers of the responsibilities that they have for employees’ health and wellbeing.
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