In-Depth: Suicide among COVID long-haulers

Deaths underscore need for more help
CDC: Patients of color 4 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19
Posted at 6:43 AM, Jul 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-02 10:22:02-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A recent high-profile suicide underscores the need for more research and funding into the link between long-haul COVID patients and suicide.

According to her husband Nick Guthe, Heidi Ferrer, best known as a writer on the hit TV show "Dawson's Creek," took her own life after battling long-haul COVID symptoms for 13 months.

"It was excruciating and painful to watch," Guthe says about Ferrer's symptoms, which included pain in her feet, swollen lymph nodes, and internal tremors so bad she couldn't sleep. "I watched her get taken apart piece by piece by this; systematically, every system in her body."

Now, Guthe is trying to raise awareness about long-haul COVID and its inherent suicide risk.

"If the government doesn't step in and start funding research and providing mental health for people, I don't know what to say," he says.

Studies estimate that anywhere from 10% to 30% of people who survive a COVID-19 infection suffer from symptoms for months afterward.

Survivor Corps, an online support group, ran a poll among its members about their mental state after dealing with long-haul COVID symptoms. Among the people who answered, nearly 18% said they have thought about suicide.

"These are really life-altering symptoms," says Survivor Corps Founder Diana Berrent. "We owe it to all of these people to find them a road to recovery."

Recent research is starting to provide hope, along with some concrete evidence that more help is needed.

A paper published in the European Respiratory Journal found that 13.8% of long haulers screened positive for depression, and 10.5% were diagnosed with PTSD.

The authors of that paper recommended mental health screening for all COVID-19 survivors, "to identify psychological needs and support the recovery of patients who may be far from "back to normal" physically and mentally."

Another article published through the National Institutes of Health wrote that "Studies of suicidality in COVID-19 survivors are urgently needed and will be a new area of suicide research."

Berrent says that proves the government needs to start providing funding and support.

"Unless that happens at the same sort of warp speed that the vaccine race was run on, then the answers are going to come too late for too many people who are suffering in such a myriad of ways," she says.

In the meantime, Guthe has a message for other long-haulers contemplating suicide.

"Don't do it," he says. "You don't understand what making this decision does to your family ... Hang on. Hang on for yourself and hang on for those who care about you because they love you more than you know."

If you or someone you know needs mental health help or is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.