Nearly one in five Covid-19 sufferers develop mental health issues

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Research into psychiatric treatment for Covid-19 sufferers is now urgent say authors of a new study which found nearly one in five people diagnosed with the virus are diagnosed with a psychiatric condition within three months.

The study by Oxford University, and published in The Lancet Psychiatry, used the electronic health records of 69 million people in the USA to look at over 62,000 cases of Covid-19.

Scientists found that in the three months following testing positive for Covid-19, one in five survivors were found to get a diagnosis of anxiety or depression for the first time. This is about twice as likely as for other groups of patients over the same period. They also found a diagnosis of dementia may be commoner. 

Although one in four of these people had not had a psychiatric diagnosis before Covid-19, the illness was also associated with new psychiatric diagnoses in people with a history of mental illness.

Paul Harrison, Professor of Psychiatry, University Oxford, said: “People have been worried that Covid-19 survivors will be at greater risk of mental health problems, and our findings in a large and detailed study show this to be likely.

“Services need to be ready to provide care, especially since our results are likely to be underestimates of the actual number of cases. We urgently need research to investigate the causes and identify new treatments.”

One in five survivors were found to get a diagnosis of anxiety or depression for the first time

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, said the charity has also seen an increase in first-time calls from people being “triggered into mental health problems.”

“Startling figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that the number of people experiencing depression has doubled from one in ten before the pandemic to one in five now. Our concern is that when people do reach out for help nothing is available – they often tell us that mental health services have 'disappeared'.

"If the Government fails to take note of these findings and prepare sufficient skilled staff, and if necessary psychiatric beds, we will find our services not able to cope with the escalating numbers of people who may become critically unwell."

A more surprising finding in the study, was that patients with existing psychiatric disorders might be more likely to get coronavirus.

The researchers found that people with a pre-existing psychiatric diagnosis were 65 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with the virus than those without, even when the known risk factors for Covid-19 were taken into account. 

Dr Max Taquet, clinical fellow at NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre, said: “This finding was unexpected and needs investigation. In the meantime, having a psychiatric disorder should be added to the list of risk factors for Covid-19.”

Read the full paper in The Lancet Psychiatry – Bidirectional associations between COVID-19 and psychiatric disorder: retrospective cohort studies of 62354 COVID-19 cases in the USA


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