People diagnosed with COVID-19 are more likely to develop depression, anxiety, dementia, psychosis, and a stroke within six months, scientists discovered.
A recent study published in the journal Lancet on Tuesday, April 6, observed that a third of COVID-19 patients from a group of more than 230,000 people went on to develop or have a relapse of a neural or psychological condition.
The findings also pointed out that those admitted to hospital or to intensive care had an even higher risk.
The U.K.-based research team at the University of Oxford suggested that the pandemic could lead to a wave of neurological and psychological conditions, not only from prolonged time spent in lockdown conditions, but now also due to effects of the infection.
The team explained it wasn't clear how COVID-19 affects the brain and the mind, but that further research into the matter needs to happen quickly and thoroughly.
How the team carried out its research
The team looked at the medical records of over 230,000 recovered COVID-19 patients who were mostly based in the U.S., and how high their chances were of developing 14 common psychological and neurological conditions.
Anxiety and mood disorders were the top diagnoses for those who had had COVID-19, impacting 17 percent and 14 percent, respectively. And for those who had spent time in intensive care with severe COVID-19, seven percent had a stroke within six months and nearly two percent had dementia.
This could be explained by the fact the patients had been stressed from being very sick or being brought to the hospital, explained the researchers.
Conditions like dementia and a stroke were more likely to be due to the biological effects of the virus on the patients, or of the body's reaction to the infection, the team said.
The team stressed that its research was purely observational, so they could not say whether COVID-19 caused any of these diagnoses. Moreover, some of the patients could have naturally had a stroke or depression within six months after being cured.
That said, as the team compared the COVID-19 patients with two other groups, with flu and other respiratory infections respectively, they could deduce that COVID-19 was associated with more mental health conditions than other respiratory illnesses, a BBC report stated.
Unfortunately, the more severely ill a COVID-19 patient had been, the higher their chances of having a subsequent mental health condition were.
The study's findings are worrying, and independent scientists not linked to the research are urging further investigation on the matter.
"The impact COVID-19 is having on individuals’ mental health can be severe," Lea Milligan, chief executive of the MQ Mental Health research charity told Reuters. "This is contributing to the already rising levels of mental illness and requires further, urgent research."