A recently published study has found that people who have had Covid-19 have a 25 per cent higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders in the four months after the infection.
The researchers at the Oregon State University (OSU) in the United States compared 46,610 people infected with Covid-19 with people who had other types of respiratory tract infections to specifically look at anxiety and mood disorders.
Links have been drawn between mental health and Covid-19 earlier as well, with Long Covid known to have affect people mentally in a significant way.
Here we explain what the OSU study found, its meaning, the mental health effects of Covid-19, and why the OSU study is significant.
What are study’s findings?
The OSU researchers found that Covid-19 patients had a 3.8 per cent rate of developing a psychiatric disorder compared with 3.0 per cent for other respiratory tract infections, according to a statement from the university.
The 0.8 per cent difference means about a 25% increased risk of psychiatric disorders among people who had Covid-19, as per the statement.
It added that researchers looked looked specifically at anxiety and mood disorders and found a minor but significant increase in risk for anxiety disorders and no change in risk for mood disorders.
What’s the significance?
While links between Covid-19 and mental health have been drawn earlier as well, this research is signigicant as it draws its data from across the United States, meaning it's broader in its scope.
"The large sample size and the fact that this data cohort draws from across the US gave researchers a unique window into post-Covid side effects," said the study co-author Lauren Chan.
She added that the research's findings highlight that Covid-19 patients need to be observed and treated from a psychiatric point of view as well, saying healthcare providers need to more proactive to screen people for these conditions.
She said, "For people that have had Covid, if you’re feeling anxiety, if you’re seeing some changes in how you’re going through life from a psychiatric standpoint, it’s totally appropriate for you to seek some help. And if you’re a care provider, you need to be on the proactive side and start to screen for those psychiatric conditions and then follow up with those patients."
Chan also highlighted that the healthcare system is set to be further stressed as people report psychiatric conditions after Covid-19, which in intself has stressed healthcare systems in the United States and the world. She also said difficulties would also rise in finding the right professional to seek help.
She said, "We already had struggles in trying to identify a professional to work with, and we’re going to keep having difficulties getting people the care they need. If we do see this kind of increase in post-COVID psychiatric conditions, and people are recognizing them and trying to seek care, it poses some concern."
Covid-19 and mental health
It has been reported that the coronavirus pandemic has worsened mental health among people — even without an infection.
Mayo Clinin has noted, "Surveys show a major increase in the number of U.S. adults who report symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia during the pandemic, compared with surveys before the pandemic."
The Covid-19 infection, particularly Long Covid, can lead to mental health effects. It's a condition when you have symptoms such as fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, among others, for more than 12 weeks after testing negative that cannot be associated with any other diagnosis.
Besides fatigue and shortness of breath, the most distinguishable Long Covid symptom is "brain fog", which is an umbrella term used to refer to a range of cognitive issues such as developing an erratic memory, lack of clarity of mind, poor concentration, and a persisting feeling of confusion.
Simply, brain fog is also understood as mental fatigue — a mental manifestation of the toll on Covid-19 on you.
Studies have also shown that Covid-19 causes inflammation in the brain and deaths of brain cells. Microhemorrhage, which refers to small internal bleeding in the brain, have also been associated with Covid-19 infections.