In Short

Researchers find Covid associated with higher prevalence of mental health problems

By: - June 6, 2022 4:56 pm
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An Oregon State University study found that the longer a child suffered from sexual abuse, the bigger an impact it had on them as an adult. (Getty Images)

Researchers have found that patients with Covid had a higher risk of suffering a mental health disorder up to a year after the initial infection compared with people who came down with other respiratory infections.

The findings, published in the medical journal World Psychiatry, compared mental health diagnoses for 46,610 Covid patients nationwide with those for the same number of people who had other respiratory infections.

None of the patients had a previous history of a mental health illness. They found a relatively low incidence among Covid patients – 3.8% – but that was higher than the 3% of people who contracted influenza or another respiratory infection: 3%.

“The 0.8% difference amounts to about a 25% increased relative risk,” according to a release from Oregon State University.

An OSU doctoral student took part in the research along with scientists from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Texas and Italy.

Get help:

  • Talk to your provider.
  • Text OREGON to the crisis text line at 741741.
  • Call the mental health crisis line at 800-923-4357.
  • See a counselor.
  • Visit a county health department.
  • Get help from your employee assistance program, if you are working for a company that has one.

The findings largely mirror those in other research, OSU said.

The research looked at two time periods – 21 to 120 days after a Covid diagnosis and 120 to 365 days afterwards – and considered anxiety and mood disorders like depression. They found a “significant increase” in risk for anxiety disorders, the release said.

The results show the need for patients and health care providers to be more proactive in addressing mental health concerns following a Covid infection, said co-author Lauren Chan, a doctorate student in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“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,” Chan said. “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 recommended that providers call Covid patients two weeks after their diagnosis for a mental health check-in.

“There could certainly be people who are struggling with new things like this, and they need that additional support or push to seek some help,” she said. “I don’t want to say that every single person who gets Covid is going to have this type of problem, but if you start to have concern for yourself or a family member, it’s not unheard of. You should definitely seek care for yourself or others around you.”

The research comes at a time when mental health providers are already grappling with an increase in demand, specialists say.

Up to one-third of people who get Covid develop long Covid. A patient has long Covid when symptoms persist a month or more after the initial Covid diagnosis. Experts at Oregon Health & Science University, which has a multidisciplinary long Covid program, estimate that as many as 230,000 people in Oregon have developed the disease out of about 775,000 Covid cases statewide since 2020. 

The disease particularly affects women between 35 and 69, minority communities and people with chronic conditions like diabetes.

Symptoms can be debilitating, including fatigue, memory and problem-solving problems, joint and muscle pain, sleep troubles and headaches. The disease can drag on, too, sometimes taking more than a year for recovery.

The research does not address long Covid but the paper’s lead author, Ben Coleman from a genomics research center at the University of Connecticut, is working on a follow-up to assess the association between symptoms of long Covid and mental illness.




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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.