Nearly 20 Percent of COVID-19 Patients Get Mental Illness in Months, Says Study

The numbers for COVID-19 patients developing mental illness are likely 'underestimated.'
Brad Bergan

Researchers at Oxford Univesity showed how a staggering 18% of patients surviving the COVID-19 coronavirus later develop mental illness — including depression, anxiety, dementia, and insomnia — in 90 days or less, according to a recent paper published in The Lancet.


Oxford says 18 percent of COVID-19 survivors develop mental illness

The researchers at Oxford also found a correlation between patients with preexisting psychiatric health conditions — who were 65% more likely to contract the COVID-19 illness, according to the recent paper.

"This finding was unexpected and needs investigation," said co-author and academic clinical fellow at Oxford Max Taquet, to The Guardian. "In the meantime, having a psychiatric disorder should be added to the list of risk factors for COVID-19."

In the past, researchers also found COVID-19 patients showing several unusual neurological symptoms — like strokes and memory loss. Another study from researchers at the NYU School of Medicine found the virus was to blame for possibly damaging neurological injuries — which span a spectrum from temporary confusion to full-blown seizures — happening in roughly one out of every seven coronavirus patients.

Higher risk of mental illness after COVID-19 illness

Compounded with the Oxford study, there is some cause for alarm. But whether mental illness effects stem directly from the COVID-19 illness, or preexisting conditions, or some other unknown dynamic — remains uncertain.

Another idea from the researchers suggests mental health issues might happen because of the drugs used to treat these disorders, reports the BBC.

"People have been worried that COVID-19 survivors will be at a greater risk of mental health problems, and our findings... show this to be likely," said the paper's co-author and Oxford Professor of psychiatry Paul Harrison, to Reuters.

Direct link between COVID-19, mental illness not known

Harrison added that health services need to get ready for the coming mental illness wave, because "our results are likely to be underestimated."

The study involved an analysis of 69 million Americans, along with at least 62,000 cases of patients confirmed to have the COVID-19 illness.

The researchers didn't say a direct link between diagnosed psychiatric disorders and coronavirus cases was for certain. The data also didn't mention detailed patient records, like socioeconomic background or the use of other, unrelated drugs, Futurism reports.

However, a direct link could be established, said Harrison.

"Equally, it's not at all implausible that COVID-19 might have some direct effect on your brain and your mental health," said Harrison to The Guardian. "But I think that, again, remains to be positively demonstrated."

Mental illness rates probably 'underestimated'

Harrison also stressed the relevance of stress for everyone living amid a global pandemic — which probably affects the numbers.

"It's difficult to judge the importance of these findings... it may be unsurprising that this happens a bit more often in people with COVID-19, who may understandably have been worried that they might become seriously unwell and who will also have had to endure a period of isolation," said University of London Professor David Curtis, who didn't participate in the Oxford study, to The Guardian.

It's pretty obvious with a cursory glance at social media that mental illness is spreading at unprecedented levels. But in competition with economic concerns, especially on the corporate level, along with the obvious physical worries about slowing, reversing, and ultimately vaccinating the public against the spread of the COVID-19 disease — it's easy to miss the decaying mental health of people in need of help. But the Oxford University researchers didn't.

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