Covid-19 infection Increases risk of developing mental health problems
Social isolation, economic stress, loss of loved ones and other struggles during the pandemic have contributed to rising mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
But a large new study suggests having COVID-19 also increase the risk of developing mental health problems, the New York Times said in an article.
The study, published Wednesday in the journal The BMJ, analyzed records of nearly 154,000 COVID patients in the Veterans Health Administration system and compared their experience in the year after they recovered from their initial infection with that of a similar group of people who did not contract the virus.
The study included only patients who had no mental health diagnoses or treatment for at least two years before becoming infected with the coronavirus, allowing researchers to focus on psychiatric diagnoses and treatment that occurred after coronavirus infection.
People who had COVID were 39% more likely to be diagnosed with depression and 35% more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety over the months following infection than people without COVID during the same period, the study found. COVID patients were 38% more likely to be diagnosed with stress and adjustment disorders and 41% more likely to be diagnosed with sleep disorders than uninfected people.
“There appears to be a clear excess of mental health diagnoses in the months after COVID,” said Paul Harrison, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the study. He said the results echoed the emerging picture from other research, including a 2021 study on which he was an author, and “it strengthens the case that there is something about COVID that is leaving people at greater risk of common mental health conditions.”
The data does not suggest that most COVID patients will develop mental health symptoms. Only between 4.4% and 5.6% of those in the study received diagnoses of depression, anxiety or stress and adjustment disorders.
“It’s not an epidemic of anxiety and depression, fortunately,” Harrison said. “But it’s not trivial.”
Researchers also found that COVID patients were 80% more likely to develop cognitive problems like brain fog, confusion and forgetfulness than those who didn’t have COVID. They were 34% more likely to develop opioid use disorders, possibly from drugs prescribed for pain, and 20% more likely to develop non-opioid substance use disorders including alcoholism, the study reported.
After having COVID, people were 55% more likely to be taking prescribed antidepressants and 65% more likely to be taking prescribed anti-anxiety medications than contemporaries without COVID, the study found.
Overall, more than 18% of the COVID patients received a diagnosis of or prescription for a neuropsychiatric issue in the following year, compared with less than 12% of the non-COVID group. COVID patients were 60% more likely to fall into those categories than people who didn’t have COVID, the study found.
The study found that patients hospitalized for COVID were more likely to be diagnosed with mental health issues than those with less serious coronavirus infections. But people with mild initial infections were still at greater risk than people without COVID.