Can COVID Lead to Developing Mental Illness?

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People diagnosed with Covid-19 in the previous six months were more likely to develop depression, dementia, psychosis and stroke, researchers have found.

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A recent study shows that of those who were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the previous six months, a third went on to develop or have a relapse of a psychological or neurological condition. Those admitted to hospital or in intensive care had an even higher risk.

The BBC’s recent article entitled “Covid-19 raises risk of depression and dementia, study suggests” explains that this may be the result of both the effects of stress and the virus having a direct impact on the brain.

UK scientists looked at the electronic medical records of more than 500,000 patients in the US, and their chances of developing one of 14 common psychological or neurological conditions, including:

  • Brain hemorrhage
  • Stroke
  • Parkinson’s
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome
  • Dementia
  • Psychosis
  • Mood disorders; or
  • Anxiety disorders.

Anxiety and mood disorders were the most common diagnosis among those with COVID-19. Stroke and dementia were more likely to be linked to the biological impacts of the virus itself, or of the body’s reaction to infection in general. The coronavirus wasn’t connected to an increased risk of Parkinson’s or Guillain-Barré syndrome (a risk from flu).

It was an observational study, so researchers couldn’t determine if COVID-19 had caused any of the diagnoses. oSme would have also had a stroke or depression in the next six months regardless. However, by comparing a group of people who had had COVID-19 with two groups—with flu and with other respiratory infections respectively—the researchers at the University of Oxford concluded COVID-19 was linked to more subsequent brain conditions than other respiratory illnesses.

Sufferers were 16% more likely to develop a psychological or neurological disorder after COVID-19 than after other respiratory infections, and 44% more likely than people recovering from flu. Moreover, the more severely ill with COVID-19 the patient had been, the more likely they were to receive a subsequent mental health or brain disorder diagnosis.

Mood, anxiety or psychotic disorders impacted less than a quarter (24%) of all patients, but this increased to 25% in those admitted to the  hospital, 28% in people who were in intensive care and 36% in people who experienced delirium while ill. Strokes affected 2% of all COVID-19 patients, going up to 7% of those admitted to ICU and 9% of those who had delirium.

Reference: BBC (April 6, 2021) “Covid-19 raises risk of depression and dementia, study suggests”

Suggested Key Terms: COVID-19 (coronavirus)