A disease from Covid-19 leads to mental problems in every fifth person. This has now been confirmed by a new study by scientists at the Oxford Health Biomedical Research Center. The results have been published in the journal “Lancet Psychiatry”.
The pandemic, especially the highly isolating measures, are causing increased psychological problems such as anxiety disorders, insomnia and depression. Researchers at Oxford University therefore wanted to find out how best to contain these negative effects on the human psyche caused by the pandemic.
To this end, the scientists carried out a large-scale study in which they cooperated with the TriNetX health network, which has collected anonymized electronic health records from almost 70 million patients in the USA. These included 62,000 Covid-19 patients with a less severe course of the disease who were diagnosed between January 20 and August 1, 2020. The researchers analyzed whether these patients developed mental health problems during the first 14 to 90 days after diagnosis.
People with mental illnesses have a higher risk of contracting corona
Mental illness was diagnosed in 18.1 percent of Covid 19 patients within this period. Such a psychiatric diagnosis was made for the first time in 5.8 percent of them.
This means that around one in five people who contract Covid-19 will experience mental health problems within a period of three months. People who had previously been diagnosed with a mental illness are also 65 percent more prone to contracting Corona than people without a psychiatric disorder, according to the researchers.
To determine whether these psychological problems are actually related to a Covid 19 diagnosis, the researchers examined other cases within the same period of three months in which people were infected with other diseases such as flu or skin infections rather than with corona. In these comparison groups, however, only 2.5 percent to 3.4 percent were more susceptible to psychological problems, a significantly lower percentage.
The study’s findings were unexpected
Max Taquet, a member of the National Institute for Health Research and a study author, said, “This finding was unexpected and needs to be investigated. In the meantime, the presence of a psychiatric disorder should be added to the list of risk factors for Covid-19 ”.
The scientists also found that dementia was diagnosed twice as often in Covid-19 patients within the three-month period of the study. However, it is unclear here whether dementia was diagnosed more often because people were diagnosed with the Covid-19 virus have been examined more often, or whether the virus has a direct impact on the brain. According to Paul Harrison, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, the latter has yet to be proven.
In general, according to Harrison, the study ignores some factors that increase both the Covid-19 risk and the risk of suffering from mental illness – such as whether the patients smoke, use drugs, whether they are male or female and how old they are.
The results of the studies should not be overinterpreted
It remains unclear, for example, to what extent socio-economic aspects and the general stress caused by the pandemic as well as the constant isolation are perhaps responsible for both: falling ill with Covid-19 and susceptibility to mental problems. Because people from less privileged socio-economic backgrounds are more exposed to the virus due to poor working conditions and scarce, shared living space and suffer more often from mental illnesses.
Nevertheless, it is “by no means unlikely that the virus can also have a brain effect in certain people that causes certain neurological symptoms and difficulties,” says Harrison. “So we are particularly careful not to overinterpret this connection.” Further studies are currently being carried out to research the effects of the coronavirus on the brain and central nervous system.
According to the researchers, it will only become clear over time whether the number of mental illnesses will continue to rise after a Covid 19 diagnosis – and continue beyond the three-month period.