Covid-19 significantly increases risk of mental health disorders, even for those not hospitalised: Study

A possible long-term side effect.

Zi Shan Kow | February 17, 2022, 08:47 PM

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A new large-scale study suggests that Covid-19 patients are more likely to develop mental health issues than people who did not get infected with Covid-19.

Risk of mental health diagnosis higher by 46 per cent

The peer reviewed study was published in medical journal The BMJ on Feb. 16.

It analysed the records of more than 150,000 Covid-19 patients in the United States Veterans Health Administration system, which mostly comprised of older white men.

It only looked at patients who had no mental health diagnoses or treatment in the two years before their Covid-19 infection.

The study found that people with Covid-19 had a 46 per cent higher chance of being diagnosed with a mental health disorder in the year after getting infected, compared to a similar group of people who did not contract Covid-19.

Overall, Covid-19 patients were:

  • 39 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with depression disorders
  • 35 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders
  • 38 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with stress and adjustment disorders
  • 41 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with sleep disorders

Patients were also 86 per cent more likely to have been prescribed a mental health related drug in the year after infection.

5 per cent of Covid-19 patients diagnosed with disorders

Although the risk is higher, most patients do not develop mental health symptoms, the study found.

Only 4.4 to 5.6 per cent of participants received diagnoses of depression, anxiety or stress and adjustment disorders, reported the New York Times.

“There appears to be a clear excess of mental health diagnoses in the months after Covid,” said Paul Harrison, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford.

While this is "not an epidemic of anxiety and depression", Harrison said that "it's not trivial."

The study further revealed that Covid-19 patients were 80 per cent more likely to experience neurocognitive decline, 41 per cent more likely to develop sleep disorders and 29 per cent more likely to develop alcohol use disorders.

Not just for hospitalised patients

"The risks were evident even among those with Covid-19 who did not require hospital admission," according to the paper.

Although hospitalised patients were more likely to be diagnosed with mental health issues, those who were not hospitalised were still at a higher risk than those who didn't contract Covid-19.

The risk was still "certainly significant" for patients who were not hospitalised, said Ziyad Al-Aly, one of the authors of the paper and a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis.

In comparison with people who were hospitalised for any other reason, Covid-19 patients still presented with a higher risk.

It is "not entirely clear" why Covid-19 leads to a higher risk in mental health disorders, the study said.

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