One of the largest studies (so far) on the mental effects of COVID-19 has revealed that about one in every three individuals who survive the disease end up suffering from a psychiatric or neurological issue six months later.
The study – which was published on April 6, 2021 in The Lancet Psychiatry journal – observed the health records of over 230,000 patients who had recovered from COVID-19, and found that about 34 percent had a neurological or psychiatric issue within six months.
More than just physical effects.
According to the study’s authors, this proved that COVID-19 patients were way more likely to develop brain-related conditions compared to individuals suffering from other respiratory infections such as the common cold, tonsillitis, and laryngitis.
Among the conditions observed, the most common were anxiety (17 percent) and mood disorders (14 percent), then followed by various others. And interestingly enough, 13 percent of subjects reported that these were their very first diagnoses of a mental health issue.
When it came to neurological disorders such as brain hemorrhaging, dementia, and stroke, the number of cases was lower overall compared to psychiatric disorders. But still, the study revealed that patients who had experienced severe COVID-19 infections were still at a high risk of developing such problems.
IMAGE: University of Helsinki
The study then moved to examine the records of over 100,000 patients with influenza and over 236,000 patients with other respiratory tract infections, just to compare them with sufferers of COVID-19.
The comparisons showed that those who suffer COVID-19 were 44 percent more likely to experience neurological or mental health problems than patients who have influenza, and 16 percent more likely compared to those suffering other respiratory infections.
When it came to patients who suffered severe COVID-19 infections, the risk of developing neurological and psychiatric disorders was significantly higher.
The study showed that 46 percent of COVID-19 patients who required intensive care ended up developing such disorders within a six-month time period. For example, 2.7 percent of those admitted into intensive care units (ICUs) suffered hemorrhaging in the brain – quite a bit higher compared to 0.3 percent of those who didn’t need intensive care.
Also, close to seven percent of COVID-19 patients admitted into the ICU suffered a stroke. In contrast, only 1.3 percent of patients who didn’t need the ICU ended up experiencing a stroke.
No small problem.
These findings have led to the study’s authors voicing their concerns over the effect of COVID-19 on more than just physical wellbeing. Because, even if the chances of developing neurological or psychiatric disorders were relatively small on an individual level, the risk on a global scale could prove to be quite problematic.
Paul Harrison, the lead author of the study from the University of Oxford, said that many of the disorders observed were “chronic”, and “as a result, health care systems need to be resourced to deal with the anticipated need, both within primary and secondary care services.”
And commenting on the study, Jonathan Rogers from University College London expressed his views that there was now a need for deeper research on the long-term effects of COVID-19 on mental and brain health, considering that the direct correlation between the virus and its effects of the brain are yet to be fully understood.
“Sadly, many of the disorders identified in this study tend to be chronic or recurrent, so we can anticipate that the impact of COVID-19 could be with us for many years,” he said.