Long COVID and mental health
For most people, the symptoms of COVID-19 will pass within a few days or weeks. But for some people the effects can last for weeks or months. This condition is called long COVID.
Everyone’s experience of long COVID is different. Some people only have one symptom, but others might have many. How bad your symptoms are can vary. Long COVID can affect your mental health.
This page looks at:
- what long COVID is,
- first steps for help,
- what you can do if long COVID is affecting your mental health, and
- what you can do if a relative or friend has long COVID.
This page is for anyone affected by long COVID.
What is long COVID and what are the symptoms?
People experiencing long COVID may often experience one or more of the following symptoms.
- Extreme tiredness
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Difficulty sleeping
- Heart palpitations
- Pins and needles or joint pain
- Depression and anxiety
- Tinnitus or earache
- Feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
- A high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
The type of symptoms you have, and how they affect you, might change over time.
The NHS say the chances of experiencing long Covid don’t seem to be linked to how ill you were when you first had Covid-19.
If I think I have long COVID. What can I do?
If your symptoms of COVID-19 have lasted for longer than 4 weeks, and you’re worried or want expert advice, you can:
- contact your GP, or
- call NHS 111 or contact them via their website.
You’ll be asked about your symptoms and the impact they're having on your life.
You might be offered:
- tests such as blood tests or chest x-rays,
- treatment for your symptoms,
- advice about how to manage your symptoms at home,
- a referral to an NHS long Covid assessment service, or
- an NHS service that specialises in the specific symptoms you have.
Medical professionals will think about if your symptoms are linked to other conditions or illnesses.
You can read more about recovering from COVID-19 on this NHS website.
You can check what treatment and care is recommended for long Covid on the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) website.
NICE produce guidelines for how health professionals should treat certain conditions. The NHS doesn’t have to follow NICE guidelines, but they should have a good reason if they don’t.
Can long COVID affect my mental health?
Physical health conditions can often affect your mental health too, and this is true of long COVID. It might lead to symptoms of anxiety or low mood, for example.
Some studies show that about 1 in 4 people who experience long COVID develop a mental health issue.
Long COVID might affect things like your quality of life or ability to work. Many people are anxious about how long symptoms might last or when they can get back to their normal way of life.
If long COVID is affecting your mental health, there are things you can do to help.
What help and support can I get for my mental health?
How can my GP support me?
You can contact your GP, who can provide treatment and advice for mental health issues.
Your GP can:
- offer you suitable medication,
- refer you to NHS talking therapy services,
- give you lifestyle advice on things like sleep or exercise, and
- refer you to specialist NHS mental health services, if appropriate.
You can read more about GPs – What to expect from your doctor by clicking here.
Can I get talking therapy?
Talking therapy is a common treatment for mental illness. It includes things like counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). But there are other types too.
You can get free talking therapy from the NHS or you can pay for private therapy. Sometimes you can get free or low-cost therapy from charities or other organisations.
You can find your local NHS talking therapy service by clicking here. You can usually book an initial appointment on your local service’s website or by giving them a call. You don’t normally need a referral from your GP.
You can read our information on Talking therapies by clicking here. It explains the different kinds of therapies available and how to get them.
What can I do to help myself?
There are things that you can do to help yourself. Everyone is different, so you can find out what works for you.
How can I get emotional support?
Talking about your mental health can have big benefits. You may be able to talk to trusted people, like friends and family, about how you’re feeling. But you can also call emotional support lines. Trained listeners are there to help you talk through how you’re feeling.
You can get contact details for emotional support lines in our information on ‘Worried about your mental health’ by clicking here. Click on the ‘Other help available’ option at the top of the page then scroll down to ‘How can I get emotional support?’
What else can I do to help myself?
You can also.
- Learn ways to relax.
- Practise mindfulness and meditation.
- Improve things about your lifestyle such as your diet, sleep and exercise.
- Have a daily routine.
- Have healthy relationships.
- Keep a mood diary.
- Try complementary and alternative treatments.
- Get self-help online.
- Join a mental health support group, either face-to-face or online. You can search to see if we run a support group near you by clicking here.
You can read more about the above things in our information on:
- Worried about your mental health by clicking here, and
- Complementary and alternative treatments by clicking here.
What can I do if I need urgent help for my mental health?
If you need urgent help for your mental health you can find information about options for help by clicking here.
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can read our information on Suicidal thoughts – How to cope by clicking here.
A relative or friend has long COVID. What can I do?
If a relative or friend has long COVID it may be a stressful and challenging time for both of you.
You can get advice from the NHS website about what you can do by clicking here.
- be worried about your relative or friend’s mental health, or
- want to know how to support them if they’re experiencing mental illness.
You can read our following information:
- Worried about someone’s mental health by clicking here, and
- Supporting someone with a mental illness by clicking here.
I’m finding it difficult to care for my relative because I have long COVID. What can I do?
You might care for a relative who lives with mental illness. But you might have long COVID and because of that you’re finding it difficult to care for them.
- Ask another relative, a friend or a neighbour of yours or your relative to help them, if possible.
- If you’re in a carers group, you can ask another member of the group to help out.
- If your relative is with an NHS mental health team you, or your relative can contact them. They might be able to arrange additional support, including support from social services.
- If your relative isn’t with an NHS mental health team you can ask for help from social services. They might be able to support you as a carer, or support your relative directly, or help both of you.
You read our information on:
- Social care assessment under the Care Act 2014 by clicking here.
- Carers assessment under the Care Act 2014 by clicking here.
- Planning for the future: Your relative’s care and support by clicking here.
You might find the following organisations useful:
© Rethink Mental Illness 2021
Last updated July 2021
Next update July 2022
Version number 1
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