Nearly one in five people is diagnosed with a psychiatric condition within three months of contracting coronavirus – double the usual rate from other illnesses, a study has shown.
Although mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are common after an illness, researchers at Oxford University found that was far higher than for people recovering from conditions such as flu or suffering a major broken bone.
One in four of those diagnosed had never had a psychiatric diagnosis before their Covid infection.
The study is observational and researchers are unsure whether the effect is being caused by the biological effect of coronavirus or underlying anxieties linked to the pandemic.
Paul Harrison, professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford, who led the study, said: “People have been worried that Covid-19 survivors will be at greater risk of mental health problems, and our findings in a large and detailed study show this to be likely.
“Commonest were anxiety diagnoses followed by depressive disorders and insomnia. Services need to be ready to provide care, especially since our results are likely to be underestimates of the actual number of cases. We urgently need research to investigate the causes and identify new treatments.”
The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, used the health records of 69 million people in the US, which included more than 62,000 cases of Covid-19.
People over 65 were also at double the risk of being diagnosed with dementia, although researchers said the condition may have gone unnoticed until they were hospitalised with the virus. Researchers also found that people with a pre-existing psychiatric diagnosis were 65 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with Covid-19 than those without, even when known risk factors such as obesity were taken into account.
The team believes the link is strong enough that poor mental health should now be seen as a risk factor for coronavirus.
Dr Max Taquet, an academic foundation doctor in the department of psychiatry at Oxford University, who conducted the analysis, said: “This finding was unexpected and needs investigation. In the meantime, having a psychiatric disorder should be added to the list of risk factors for Covid-19.”