Study Suggests COVID-19 Infection May Increase the Risk of Developing New Mental Health Problems


Mental health issues have been exacerbated by the social isolation, economic stress, loss of loved ones, and other struggles due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A new study, Mental Health in People with COVID-19, published in the journal The BMJ, suggests that COVID-19 infection itself may increase the risk of individuals developing mental health problems.

The study analyzed health records of nearly 154,000 COVID-19 patients in the Veterans Health Administration system and compared their mental health state a year later to a similar group of people who had not contracted the virus. The test group of those who had contracted COVID-19 a year before follow-up only included patients who had no mental health diagnoses or treatment within the two years prior to their infection.

The study results show that people who had COVID-19 were 39% more likely to be diagnosed with depression, and 35% more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety than those who did not have COVID-19 over the same period. This increase in risk was also apparent in diagnoses of stress and adjustment disorders and sleep disorders, with those who had COVID-19 being 38% and 41% more likely to be diagnosed with these disorders, respectively, than their uninfected counterparts.

Dr. Paul Harrison, a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford who authored a similar study in 2021, six-month neurological and psychiatric outcomes in 236,379 survivors of COVID-19: a retrospective cohort study using electronic health records, said that the new research results echo his. As quoted on nytimes.com, Dr. Harrison said, "There appears to be a clear excess of mental health diagnoses in the months after COVID . . . it strengthens the case that there is something about COVID that is leaving people at greater risk of common mental health conditions."

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