One in five Covid-19 patients develop mental illness within 90 days

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LONDON: Many Covid-19 survivors are likely to be at greater risk of developing mental illness, psychiatrists said on Monday, after a large study found 20% of those infected with the coronavirus are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder within 90 days.

Anxiety, depression and insomnia were most common among recovered Covid-19 patients in the study who developed mental health problems. The researchers from Britain’s Oxford University also found significantly higher risks of dementia, a brain impairment condition.

“People have been worried that Covid-19 survivors will be at greater risk of mental health problems, and our findings … show this to be likely,” said Paul Harrison, a professor of psychiatry at Oxford.

Doctors and scientists around the world urgently need to investigate the causes and identify new treatments for mental illness after Covid-19, Harrison said. “(Health) services need to be ready to provide care, especially since our results are likely to be underestimates (of the number of psychiatric patients),” he added.

The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, analysed electronic health records of 69 million people in the United States, including more than 62,000 cases of Covid-19. The findings are likely to be the same for those afflicted by Covid-19 worldwide, the researchers said

In the three months following testing positive for Covid-19, 1 in 5 survivors were recorded as having a first time diagnosis of anxiety, depression or insomnia. This was about twice as likely as for other groups of patients in the same period, the researchers said.

The study also found that people with a pre-existing mental illness were 65% more likely to be diagnosed with Covid-19 than those without.

Ethnicity

People of Black and Asian ethnicities are up to twice as likely to be infected with Covid-19, compared to white individuals, a comprehensive analysis has found. The data also suggests that the risk of being admitted to intensive care after catching coronavirus may be twice as high for Asians when compared to those from white ethnicities.

The analysis, published in the EClinical Medicine by The Lancet, is based on pooled data from more than 18 million people who had taken part in 50 studies in the UK and US.

The scientists said that their findings should be of “importance to policymakers going forward”. However, they added that any decisions on whether those from Black and Asian backgrounds should be on the priority list for a Covid-19 vaccine will need to come from the government and Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the government on all aspects of vaccination.