The Lesser-Recognized Covid Symptoms

Is it time to add anxiety and depression to the official list of COVID-19 symptoms?

As COVID-19 continues to bully the world and storm toward completing a second year of devastation, researchers worldwide are closely monitoring the pandemic’s effects on people’s mental health.

According to first-of-its-kind research from Boston University School of Public Health, depression rates among US adults soared from 8.5% pre-pandemic to 27.8% within months of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic. That’s more than a triple increase. The study went on to report that depression has continued to consistently rise in 2021, jumping to 32.8% and affecting 1 in 3 American adults.1

Now, just for the heck of it, consider this. A review of compiled data from 8,438 people diagnosed with COVID-19 found that 41% had reported experiencing smell loss .2

That begs the question: Is it time for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to update its official list of COVID-19 symptoms? Along with the often-quoted physiological signs, such as fever, cough, difficulty breathing, and loss of taste or smell, should depression and anxiety be added to the inventory of COVID-19 symptoms?

Still an Open Question

“COVID-19 is an inflammatory viral infection that affects the entire system, and we also know that an inflammatory process is suspected to be behind many mental illnesses,” explains Julie Carbray, PhD, FPMHNP-BC, PMHCNS-BC, APRN, and the first nurse to serve as a Psych Congress co-chair. “It makes sense to at least consider mental disease as a symptom of COVID-19—given that the virus is aggravating biologic systems.”

Another possible reason to add mental illness to COVID-19’s list of symptoms ties to the fact that this novel coronavirus is an “an acute traumatic event that impacts a person’s social life, their work—every aspect of their life—and contributes to isolation, which we know also contributes to depression,” Dr. Carbray adds.

The challenge to getting mental illness on the CDC list of symptoms comes down to cause and effect. The CDC looks at causes that might indicate communicable diseases. At this point, elevated rates of anxiety and depression are considered effects—or results of COVID-19 causes.

Circling back to those inflammatory contributions, Dr. Carbray adds, “From a biologic perspective, as we keep moving forward and understanding what this virus is, I think we’ll see more about what COVID-19 does in the brain. And let’s not forget the long haul COVID-19 patients. We’re seeing some long-term inflammatory processes impacting these patients’ mental health. We’re still figuring everything out, though. Nothing is certain.”

In Session

While mental health teams have much to figure out about COVID-19, what is known, along with what’s being investigated, will be reviewed during the 34th Psych Congress. Here are a few sessions that ConferenceInsider™ plans to attend and cover.

  • Welcome Session: Perspective on Mental Healthcare: Connecting to the Now and the Future. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented social isolation, illness, financial devastation, and loss of loved ones to so many around the world. The Psych Congress kick-off presentation will offer important updates on how the landscape of mental health care is changing as a direct result of the pandemic.
  • Love and Loneliness in the Time of COVID-19: Clinical Relevance of Relationships, presented by Vladimir Maletic, MD, Clinical Professor Neuropsychiatry/Behavioral Science, and Bernadette DeMuri-Maletic, MD, Medical Director, TMS Center of Wisconsin, Assistant Clinical Professor, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The session will investigate severe societal stress and disruption in relationships specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The presenters will also explain how societal stress and disruption in relationships have contributed to escalating rates of depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, substance abuse, and other ramifications of social/relationship disturbances.
  • Older Adults and the Mental Health Effects of COVID-19, presented by Ipsit Vahia, MD, Medical Director, Geriatric Psychiatry Outpatient Services, Medical Director, McLean Institute for Technology in Psychiatry, Director, Technology and Aging Laboratory, McLean Hospital; Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Vahia’s will review the growing body of literature focused on how older adults have been impacted by and responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. This session will also report on issues of loneliness and isolation—as well as resilience demonstrated by older adults.

1. Ettman CK, Cohen GH, Abdalla SM, Sampson L, Trinquart L, Castrucci BC, Bork RH, Clark MA, Wilson I, Vivier PM, Galea S. Persistent depressive symptoms during COVID-19: a national, population-representative, longitudinal study of U.S. adults. Lancet Reg Health Am. 2021 Oct 4:100091. doi: 10.1016/j.lana.2021.100091. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34635882; PMCID: PMC8488314. Available from

2. Agyeman AA, Chin KL, Landersdorfer CB, Liew D, Ofori-Asenso R. Smell and Taste Dysfunction in Patients With COVID-19: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Mayo Clin Proc. 2020 Aug;95(8):1621-1631. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2020.05.030. Epub 2020 Jun 6. PMID: 32753137; PMCID: PMC7275152. Available at