One-third of severe COVID-19 victims develop a mental health condition

A new study published in the Lancet Psychiatry found that one-third of patients who suffered severe bouts of the coronavirus were then diagnosed with a mental health condition.

Utilizing the electronic health records of 236,379 patients, a majority of whom were from the United States, researchers found that 34 percent were attributed with a neurological or psychiatric disorder.

Of the patients studied, the four most common diagnoses were anxiety disorders at 17 percent, mood disorders at 14 percent, substance misuse disorders at 7 percent, and insomnia at 5 percent.

Although exceedingly rare, patients who were admitted to intensive care also received diagnoses of strokes and dementia, at 7 percent and 2 percent, respectively.


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When other patient characteristics were considered, such as age, sex, ethnicity and preexisting health issues, patients had a 44 percent greater risk of receiving a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis after fighting COVID-19 than after the flu.

The lead author of the study, Paul Harrison of University of Oxford, told The Guardian, “These are real-world data from a large number of patients. They confirm the high rates of psychiatric diagnoses after Covid-19 and show that serious disorders affecting the nervous system (such as stroke and dementia) occur too. While the latter is much rarer, they are significant, especially in those who had severe Covid-19.”

For these severe patients, it’s speculated the root could stem from the trauma of being severely ill, isolated from loved ones, held in intensive care and, for some, intubated.

However, the authors of the study acquiesce that their study has limitations. Because many symptomatic people aren’t ill enough to require inpatient care, the patients who were studied were among the most severely sick, and therefore could have had more traumatic experiences than others.

But Harrison and his fellow authors anticipate the need for additional resources, spanning over a couple of years for those struggling after being severely ill, and warn health and social institutions to begin preparing now. 

“The effect across the whole population may be substantial for health and social care systems due to the scale of the pandemic and that many of these conditions are chronic,” Harrison said. “As a result, health care systems need to be resourced to deal with the anticipated need, both within primary and secondary care services.”


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