20% Covid-19 patients at risk of developing mental illness

Grant Boone
November 12, 2020

About 20% of COVID-19 survivors reported psychiatric conditions within 90 days of being diagnosed, the researchers reported. Almost 6% of COVID-19 survivors were diagnosed with an illness such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia for the first time within 90 days, meaning they had about twice the risk of mental illness compared with patients with the flu or a fracture.

"People have been anxious that COVID-19 survivors will be at greater risk of mental health problems", Paul Harrison, a professor of psychiatry at Britain's Oxford University, told Voice of America.

"(Health) services need to be ready to provide care, especially since our results are likely to be underestimates (of the number of psychiatric patients)", he added. They also found higher risks for developing dementia in patients over age 65.

This means that the association between Covid and psychiatric illnesses is bidirectional - one condition tends to promote the other.

It is important that doctors and scientists investigate the causes and bring up new treatments for mental illness post-COVID-19.

Harrison added that there could be an array of factors driving forward these mental-health issues seen in patients.

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While the large study shed some light on the picture of the effect of the coronavirus on mental health, the researchers said "longer-term follow-up studies are urgently needed to support and extend the findings of our study".

Dr. Michael Bloomfield at University College London, who was not involved in the study, told the BBC that the link between COVID-19 and mental illness was probably due to "a combination of the psychological stressors associated with this particular pandemic and the physical effects of the illness".

Although mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are common after an illness, researchers at Oxford University found that was far higher than for people recovering from conditions such as flu or suffering a major broken bone.

Studies on the impact of the coronavirus to the brain are already underway.

"COVID-19 affects the central nervous system, and so might directly increase subsequent disorders", said Simon Wessely, regius professor of psychiatry at King's College London.

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