The last week of March and the first week of April 2021, it’s a strange fortnight in an even stranger year. All around us people are reflecting on the trials and tribulations that have befallen them over the past year. Many are also champing at the bit to get on with their lives, to get back to normal, as the nations of the UK start to emerge from months of lockdown.
However, what is increasingly clear, for many of those who survived contracting Covid-19, is how calamitous it has been. For these people, spirited talk of ‘moving on’ and ‘getting back to normal’ is very hollow, as they continue to experience the symptoms of Covid-19, or post-Covid-19 syndrome (often referred to as ‘Long-Covid). The NICE Guidelines describe it as “Signs and symptoms that develop during or after an infection consistent with COVID 19, continue for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis. It usually presents with clusters of symptoms, often overlapping, which can fluctuate and change over time and can affect any system in the body”.
The neutral language of the NICE Guidelines does not adequately convey the fear, the fatigue and the pain that we know from our contact with affected clients, family and friends is their experience. What we also know is how many are struggling to access support and this can be even harder for those who caught the virus early on (and so did not have a diagnostic test confirming they had the virus) or who were not admitted to hospital.
Recently reported research illustrates the scale of the challenge many people are facing but also some of the mysteries that are unfolding that we urgently need some answers to – summed up by this BBC headline: “Middle-aged women worst affected by long Covid’’.
The studies, by researchers at the Universities of Leicester and Glasgow, suggest the following:
- ‘Middle-aged women’ experience the most severe, long-lasting symptoms after being treated in hospital for Covid-19.
- The Leicester research found that up to 70% of patients in their study had not fully recovered an average of five months after leaving hospital. They were still affected by everything from anxiety to breathlessness, fatigue, muscle pain and “brain fog”. Women were the most affected.
- There is no obvious correlation between continuing ill health and how ill people were when they originally fell ill with the virus – people who were not hospitalised can have the ongoing symptoms.
- There is no obvious explanation for why women are recovering more poorly than men.
The studies, which have yet to be peer-reviewed, show up complex patterns and there is no obvious explanation yet why among women, it was the middle-aged group which appeared to be worst affected by ongoing health problems, even where they were healthy before they contracted the virus. Questions are being raised about whether there are differences in how men and women’s immune systems work, for example.
The practical implications of these studies are enormous for individuals, society and public health policy. It has been suggested that more than a million people may come to suffer post Covid-19 syndrome in the UK alone. We can see how this figure is building up when we read these studies alongside the fact that over 400,000 people have been admitted to hospital in the UK with Covid-19 since the pandemic began – and this number is only the tip of the iceberg.
What we are seeing now is a lot of private suffering for those who contracted the virus, with people having, for example, individual battles with employers and with insurers. They are battling individually too with prejudice and misunderstanding and, person by person, struggling to gain access to healthcare that looks at their situations holistically. Isolated, people fear being left behind in the headlong rush to ‘return to normal’.
What can we each do to help? I believe it is important for us to:
- Help reduce misunderstanding and stigma, by having conversations with people who don’t yet appreciate how serious Long Covid is; and
- Get to understand how badly impacted people in our lives have been, including reaching out to people who we know have been affected but who may be masking their challenges.
There is a broader point too; that we need a more holistic approach to health and wellbeing. As we know from our non-Long Covid Lighting Process clients and the long struggles they have, a siloed approach to health and wellbeing fails many people. Change is long overdue and we have a once in a generation opportunity to make sure of it.
If you would like to discuss any of the above or you are struggling and need to reach out then please get in touch.