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1 in 5 COVID-19 patients develop a mental disorder – study

Patients infected with COVID-19 may be at higher risk of mental illness as a new study finds one in five patients develop a mental disorder within 90 days of diagnosis.

Published in The Lancet Psychiatry, the study analysed 69 million US electronic health records, of which just over 62,000 cases of COVID-19 were included.

Within three months after a positive diagnosis of the virus, 18.1% of patients had developed a psychiatric disorder – roughly twice as likely as other patients within the same time frame, including those diagnosed with the flu. Of this percentage, 5.8% were new diagnoses.

Mental health disorders with the highest increases in risk included anxiety, insomnia and dementia.

“People have been worried that COVID-19 survivors will be at greater risk of mental health problems, and our findings... show this to be likely,” said Paul Harrison, professor of psychiatry at Oxford University. “(Health) services need to be ready to provide care, especially since our results are likely to be underestimates (of the number of psychiatric patients)."

The relationship between COVID-19 and mental illness did not just go one way though – people with a psychiatric disorder were 65% more likely to contract the virus than those without. Another recent study reported similar findings.

"This result was not related to any specific psychiatric diagnostic category, and was similar regardless of whether the diagnosis was made within 1 or 3 years, and whether or not the known physical risk factors for COVID-19 were present," stated the authors of the study.

Although, according to the authors, the bi-directional data should be taken cautiously, they do suggest that behavioural factors (such as less social distancing) and lifestyle factors (such as smoking) could explain the increase in risk.

The findings emphasise the severe impact of COVID-19 not just on physical health, but on mental health too, as well as the need for support for people infected with the virus and those in fear of contracting it.

Although we have all been feeling the strain on our mental health during this pandemic, it should be noted that the study analysed health records from between January and August. All of the patients in the study were therefore living through the pandemic, suggesting the risk increases recorded were relative to what could be considered a study population with an already heightened sense of anxiety.

To read the full study article, click here.


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