Studies Show That Long Covid Is Mostly Psychological

By Gwen Farrell··  6 min read
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Many of us might be worried about contracting Covid, even more so given that some of its symptoms (like aches, brain fog, chest tightness, or breathing issues) are reported to last long after we get over it. Known as “long Covid,” thousands of people have reported suffering from these symptoms after their illness.

While this affects the individual, it also affects the public health, medical, and political policies that are being introduced every day for our supposed benefit. Surprisingly, studies actually show that "long Covid" is mostly psychological. 

Long Covid’s Origins Are “Dubious”

In a scathing opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, Canadian psychiatrist Dr. Jeremy Devine proposes that “uncritical and sensational media,” not actual illness, have given long Covid the sway it currently has in and outside the medical community.

The basis of Dr. Devine’s thesis lies in the credibility of the biggest proponents of long Covid, and they’re questionable, to say the least. Long Covid’s heaviest lobbyists haven’t necessarily been pharmaceutical companies (though they’d certainly benefit) or medical professionals, but rather patients-rights advocacy groups. One of these is Body Politic, which describes itself as a “global network of COVID19 patients, chronic illness allies, and health and disability advocates” as well as “a queer feminist wellness collective merging the personal and the political.”

Dr. Devine proposes that “uncritical and sensational media,” not actual illness, have given long Covid its sway.

Body Politic was the first source to publish content (in May 2020) on long Covid, the bulk of which was patient-submitted surveys on persistent symptoms. However, nearly 50% of the survey respondents were never tested for Covid, and almost 28% tested negative. How then were they labeled as suffering from lingering symptoms of a virus they never had?

Another patient advocacy group, Solve ME/CFS, partnered with Body Politic to petition federal organizations for more research funding into long Covid. Policymakers relented, resulting in a $1.15 billion research initiative by the National Institutes of Health into long Covid. But Dr. Devine argues that it’s the lobbying, not the actual presence of an illness warranting further research, that drew the desired effect. “By drawing attention to and legitimizing the ever-present threat of long Covid, medical authorities will lead a large group of impressionable patients to believe that their Covid-19 symptoms have not resolved and that they are helpless victims of an unrelenting sickness,” he says, pointing to the legitimacy of some long Covid symptoms and the possibility of more psychosomatic-related illness.

What the Science Says

Patient surveys are one thing, but the science is on Devine’s side. A study from a November 2021 medical journal studied 26,823 French individuals where long Covid was “self-reported.” Researchers specifically noted self-reported symptoms like fatigue, poor concentration, sleep problems, aching joints, breathing difficulties, chest pains, and more. Researchers also used a blood sample to test for past Covid infection in each participant. The study showed that “self-reported COVID-19 infection was associated with most persistent physical symptoms, whereas laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection was associated only with anosmia.” Anosmia is loss of smell.

The study’s “findings...suggest that persistent physical symptoms after COVID-19 infection may be associated more with the belief in having been infected with SARS-CoV-2 than with having laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection.” Therefore, the researchers conclude that “persistent physical symptoms after Covid-19 infection should not be automatically ascribed to SARS-CoV-2,” and furthermore, that “a complete medical evaluation may be needed to prevent erroneously attributing symptoms to the virus.”

The study showed that “self-reported COVID-19 infection was associated with most persistent physical symptoms.”

Another report from the University of Michigan Medical School published this year examined lung biopsies and abnormal CT scans from 18 patients who previously had Covid and were reporting long Covid symptoms, specifically breathing difficulty and other respiration issues. A pathology team examined the set of patients and thereafter reported that they had usual interstitial pneumonia, also known as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. These patients, researchers surmised, had chronic lung conditions before they contracted Covid, which exacerbated their symptoms and resulted in the assumption that their worsening condition was a result of long Covid – not, as the pathologists found, pre-existing lung conditions that were present before they got Covid.

Deconstructing the Pandemic

Covid has been advertised as the public health crisis of the century, and long Covid isn’t any different. For most of us, we’ve noticed that our civil liberties, the agenda of the media, and even our everyday interactions with others are the areas of life that have taken a bigger hit than our long-term health.

The truth is we’ve been misled about many things, and for those of us with no underlying or preexisting factors, Covid will probably be a different experience for us than if we were elderly or in poor health. We’ve been forced to deconstruct almost everything we’ve been sold about the pandemic – why would something like long Covid be any different?

We should automatically be concerned when the right to question anything is removed from discourse.

The studies we’ve discussed largely point to long Covid symptoms being psychologically or psychosomatically induced, or due to other chronic diseases, not as a genuine result of having contracted the virus. As Dr. Jeremy Devine explains, “Patients who struggle with chronic and vague symptoms often vehemently reject a physician’s diagnosis that suggests an underlying mental-health issue, in part because of the stigma around mental illness and the false belief that psychologically generated symptoms aren’t ‘real.’”

Through this vein, Dr. Devine and other critics of long Covid argue that we’re essentially doing ourselves a disservice. In relegating what could be underlying symptoms of an alternative diagnosis to long Covid, we’re neglecting what could really be going on with our health. In doing so we’re only empowering the dominant narrative at hand, which for the most part relies on the sensationalization of the virus and the fearmongering of individuals, making us primed and ready to further accept – no questions asked – the more and more disparate tactics of a medical, pharmaceutical, and political elite.

Closing Thoughts

Be prepared (like anything Covid-related) for many to question this, not because it’s outright incorrect or inherently questionable, but because it contradicts an agenda. We should automatically be concerned when the right to question anything is removed from discourse, and that very concern has caused many to point out the double standards, inconsistencies, and hypocrisy that govern much of Covid policy.

When we remove nuance or the ability to question from the discourse, we remove the crux of what the scientific method and what science itself supposedly hinges on. And in doing so, we open ourselves up to question even less, to our own disadvantage.

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  Mental Health  Coronavirus
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