Mental illness risk skyrockets after Covid infection, study finds – even with milder cases


People with Covid-19 are much more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder or prescribed a mental health-related drug up to a year after infection, new peer review finds to study in the British medical journalanother set of worrying results as researchers learn more about the long-term impact of Covid.


According to an analysis of medical records from the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

The increased risk – which would mean that 36 more people per 1,000 are diagnosed with a mental illness and 48 more people per 100,000 are prescribed a mental health-related drug up to a year after Covid-19 – has been calculated by comparing more than 150,000 veterans with Covid-19 to two control groups, which consisted of nearly six million people showing no signs of Covid-19 at the time of the study and a size group similar using historical data from before the pandemic.

When researchers looked at various mental health disorders separately, they found that Covid-19 was linked to a 40% elevated risk of being diagnosed with a depressive disorder (equivalent to 15 extra people per 100,000 people), a 35% increased risk of an anxiety disorder (11 per 100,000 people), a 30% higher risk of a stress disorder such as PTSD (13 per 100,000 people) and a 41% higher risk of a sleep (24 per 1,000 people).

Although the researchers said the mental health risks of Covid-19 were higher in patients hospitalized with the disease, they were “evident even among those who were not admitted to hospital” and the results were relevant to “most people with Covid-19”.

The researchers also compared groups of people with seasonal flu or who had been hospitalized for causes other than Covid, and found that the risk of mental health disorders was “consistently higher in the Covid-19 group”.

The study did not examine whether people vaccinated with Covid-19 are similarly affected.

Key Context

The study adds to a growing pile of research demonstrating the mental toll of the pandemic and extends previous research that looked at the incidence of mental health conditions after much shorter periods of time (90 days and 6 months). The impact of the illness itself on mental health is compounded by the reduced availability of mental health care during the pandemic, as usual support networks have reduced their services, closed or gone online. General pandemic life, including the shift to working from home, lockdowns and social restrictions, has also had a marked impact on people’s lives and mental health, creating new stresses, amplifying existing ones and destroying valuable routines. . People who already have mental health conditions are also much more likely to die from Covid-19, studies suggest, especially those with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

What we don’t know

Why Covid-19 is linked to an increased risk of mental health disorders. The researchers said the precise mechanism(s) behind the increased risk of mental illness after Covid-19 “are not entirely clear”, but said possible mechanisms include brain inflammation, penetration of immune cells in the brain, the immune system acting on the central nervous system. and non-biological issues like grief, trauma, and isolation. The researchers said the study was observational and therefore could not establish cause and noted that its findings may not apply universally as most of the subjects were older white men.

Large number

415 million. That’s the number of reported Covid-19 cases worldwide, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. This represents about 5% of the world’s population, although the overall figure does not take into account those infected more than once, those who subsequently died from the disease (nearly 6 million people) or other causes, and numerous unidentified cases. Given this figure, the researchers said there are likely to be a large number of people dealing with the mental health impact of Covid-19. Health systems, national governments and international groups should “develop and implement strategies” to urgently identify and treat those affected, the researchers said.

crucial quote

“We don’t yet know the true impact and consequences of the long Covid, and we are still witnessing the toll of the pandemic on healthcare workers,” wrote Dr Scott Weich, professor of mental health at the University of Sheffield, in an editorial linked link. We also don’t have an “effective response to the devastating disruption to health, social care and voluntary sector services on the lives of people with serious mental illness,” Weich added, criticizing the failure to prepare. mental health impacts of the pandemic. “While epidemiological research has flourished…We are guilty of not prioritizing evaluations of mental health interventions, including clinical trials, just when they are most needed.”

Further reading

One in five Covid-19 patients diagnosed with mental illness within three months of testing positive, study finds (Forbes)

The mental health toll of COVID: How scientists are tracking a rise in depression (Nature)

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