November 11, 2020 -- Patients who recover from the coronavirus may develop a new mental illness, such as anxiety, depression and insomnia, according to a new study published Monday in The Lancet Psychiatry.
About 20% of COVID-19 survivors reported psychiatric conditions within 90 days of being diagnosed, the researchers reported. They also found higher risks for developing dementia in patients over age 65.
“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,” Paul Harrison, one of the study authors and a psychiatry professor at Oxford University, told Reuters.
The research team analyzed electronic health records for 69 million people in the U.S., including more than 62,000 cases of COVID-19 between January and July. During the 3 months after testing positive for the coronavirus, 1 in 5 people had a diagnosis of a mental illness, and among those, 6% had a first-time diagnosis.
Anxiety, depression and insomnia were the most common diagnoses, and they were twice as likely among COVID-19 patients. Patients who were hospitalized for COVID-19 faced a higher risk for mental illness as well.
“This is likely due to a combination of the psychological stressors associated with this particular pandemic and the physical effects of the illness,” Michael Bloomfield, a psychiatrist at University College London, told Reuters.
In addition, people who already had a mental illness were 65% more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than those who didn’t already have one. Those with psychiatric disorders are more likely to have underlying conditions, such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes, and live in conditions that lead to greater exposure to respiratory viruses.
Doctors and health care professionals need to prepare to treat these new diagnoses, the researchers said. Scientists also need to study this link to better understand the causes and any potential new treatments, they added.
“More than 100 years have passed since the worldwide influenza pandemic that resulted in a markedly increased rate of neurological and psychiatric” after-effects of the disease, Robert Yolken of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, wrote in an accompanying commentary in the journal.
“Despite great advances in medical science, we are faced with some of the same issues,” he wrote. “Learning to use new tools, such as electronic medical records, efficiently should provide some of the essential information needed to understand and control the psychiatric consequences of this pandemic and plan for future ones.”