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COVID-19 long hauler shares journey with psychological impacts

COVID long hauler shares journey with psychological impacts
Posted at 9:52 PM, Apr 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-10 00:30:27-04

DENVER — New research on the mental health effects of COVID-19 resonates with some Colorado survivors that battled severe cases of the disease.

"I'm in that 30%," Clarence Troutman said.

Troutman's medical doctors consider him to be a COVID-19 "long-hauler." He fought the disease for nearly 60 days at UCHealth and still occasionally needs at-home oxygen.

Now, for the first time, Troutman shared his personal journey of COVID-19's psychological impacts with Denver7.

"For me personally, I was so focused on getting well physically that I kind of put the mental part of aside for the time being," he said. "Now that I'm feeling better physically, I'm starting to find some of the psychological issues."

He's not alone.

While doctors continue research on all of the long term implications that come with a COVID-19 diagnosis, neurological and psychiatric impacts have been monitored and recorded according to a study released by The Lancet Psychiatry this week.

The study found that within six months of infection, a third of COVID-19 survivors were diagnosed with a neurological or psychological condition. The most common condition was anxiety, followed by mood disorders.

"I don't like crowds anymore. I'm still trying to work my way back to that, but initially, I had no problem being in a crowd," Troutman said. "You know, I could go to a store with her [my wife]. I could go to a casino. I could go to several places that I actually enjoy. Now, I find myself subconsciously counting the people in a room before I enter a room."

He also suffers from brain fog, and this week he was diagnosed with sleep apnea.

"I've never had that before," he said with tear-filled eyes.

"The cases I’ve seen have the hardest time are really the ones who had a longest hospitalization," said Dr. Thida Thant of UCHealth's Outpatient Psychiatry Clinic. "We've seen patients actually need lung transplants related to complications from COVID-19. Now, they’ve become a post-transplant patient. They’re taking all these new medications, so of course some of those patients, I’ve seen them really struggle, again with coping, being worried their life won’t go back to normal."

Thant has provided therapy to Troutman and other COVID-19 survivors through UCHealth's comprehensive post-ICU rehabilitation. She said the "unknown" surrounding COVID-19 implications and long hospital stays usually lead to lingering questions from patients.

"They’re like, 'Will I never get better? No one can tell me — is this just an acute illness that’s going to resolve? Or am I now a chronic illness patient?'" she said.

Thant said she and other medical professionals have seen positive psychological improvements with a therapeutic approach.

"It can take a while. It can take six months as the article kind of suggested, but for a lot of folks the symptoms are getting better. Try to hang in there and find good support. I hope people can get some reassurance from that," Thant said.

UCHealth's psychiatric resources can be found here.