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Lyme Disease and Mental Health Impact

By Lisa Ardovini, Clinical Director, Downtown Buffalo Counseling Center and Community Team

As counselors, we often hear a variety of symptoms our clients experience. These include but are not limited to trouble sleeping, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, headaches, nervousness, nightmares, and mood changes. Many of these symptoms are associated with mental health diagnoses.

In clinical care and diagnostic assessment, we look at a person’s symptoms and assign them a diagnosis, such as anxiety and depression. We are trained to complete a comprehensive assessment which will lead us to develop a treatment plan to address coping with symptoms, and an appointment can be made with a prescriber to assist in relieving these symptoms.

We ask about past trauma, family history of mental illness, and challenges with substance use. But a holistic approach to assessment is essential in helping to treat the whole person. This includes reviewing their medical history and coordination of care with the primary care provider throughout treatment.

Infectious disease can be a silent cause of many mental health disorders. It affects the nervous system, often causing inflammation, producing neurological complications.

For example, the CDC reports 7.5% of Americans experience symptoms of the COVID virus three or more months after contracting the virus. Two of the symptoms of long covid include brain fog and chronic fatigue, among other physical symptoms of muscle aches and shortness of breath. Although we no longer wear masks or take additional precautions, long COVID still affects people’s everyday lives.

Tick-born illnesses are on the rise. Lyme disease and other tick-born illnesses can be challenging to diagnose. If a person finds a tick on their body, they should notify their doctor immediately and have the tick tested. If infected, an individual will be put on a large dose of antibiotics and can fully recover.

However, Lyme disease often goes undetected for years. Many individuals with Lyme disease experience significant psychiatric symptoms such as depression and anxiety. If gone untreated for too long, individuals with Lyme disease can develop psychotic symptoms as the spirochetes find their way into an individual’s spinal cords and even the brain. With the neurological inflammation, a Lyme disease patient can present as someone with a panic disorder. Their system is overwhelmed quickly, and what would seem like an insignificant amount of stress can spiral into a panic attack quickly.

Ticks can carry other pathogens other than Lyme. PADAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder) is associated with Streptococcal infections, an illness often found in children. This is when obsessive-compulsive and tic disorders appear following a streptococcal infection, such as strep throat or scarlet fever. Ticks can also carry the pneumonia virus that can cause inflammation in our body tissue, causing distress on our body systems. These bacteria find their way into the nooks and crannies of our bodies, set up shop, move in, and hang curtains, hoping to exist without detection.

What can we do as mental health warriors? We can be mindful of the mind and body connection. As therapists, we know how poor mental health can affect our physical health. We know depressive symptoms can be helped by daily exercise, enough sleep, and a balanced diet. How often do we think mental health symptoms can be caused by infectious diseases?

Three powerful tools we have are to educate our clients about preventing tick-borne illnesses, as clinicians to be aware of the symptoms of Lyme disease and PANDAS, and to consider encouraging a client to reach out to their primary care provider if there are concerns.

Spectrum’s staff and services enormously impact our clients’ lives. You have all dedicated your professional lives to the betterment of others. Teaching our clients about the importance of routine medical care, having a relationship with a primary care provider, and how to prevent infectious diseases like Lyme disease promotes better holistic health throughout life.


“As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.”

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