One in five Covid patients develop mental illness within first three months, study shows

Rates of anxiety, depression and insomnia twice as high among coronavirus survivors 

Rory Sullivan
Tuesday 10 November 2020 09:22 GMT
Mental health experts believe Covid-19 patients could be at greater risk of developing psychiatric disorders.   
Mental health experts believe Covid-19 patients could be at greater risk of developing psychiatric disorders.    (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

One in five Covid-19 patients were diagnosed with a mental illness for the first time within three months of their infection, a study has shown.

Mental health experts said the findings, which were based on an analysis of the electronic medical records of 69 million people in the US, suggest that coronavirus survivors could have an increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders.

Of the almost 70 million people whose records were examined in the study, 62,354 individuals had confirmed Covid-19 cases.  

Researchers at the University of Oxford and the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre found that one in five of these patients went on to receive a first time diagnosis of anxiety, depression or insomnia within 90 days of testing positive for the virus.  

This was roughly twice as high as the figure for other individuals over the same time frame, according to the researchers.

People with a history of mental health disorders who contracted the virus were also discovered to be more likely to have new psychiatric diagnoses.

Paul Harrison, a psychiatry professor at the University of Oxford who led the research, 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.”

Speaking about the link between coronavirus and psychiatric illness, Michael Bloomfield, a consultant psychiatrist at University College London who was not involved in the study, said: “This is likely due to a combination of the psychological stressors associated with this particular pandemic and the physical effects of the illness.”

The Oxford study, published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal, also suggested that those with pre-existing mental health problems were 65 per cent more likely to contract Covid-19 than those without them. 

Max Taquet, a clinical fellow at NIHR who worked on the study, said this result was “unexpected and needs investigation”.

"In the meantime, having a psychiatric disorder should be added to the list of risk factors for Covid-19,” he added.

Researchers noted their work was restricted to the US and that further studies would be needed to corroborate their conclusions.

Additional reporting from agencies

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