Getting COVID can increase your risk of developing mental health issues


Key points to remember

  • A recent study found that people who recover from COVID-19 have an increased risk of various mental health issues.
  • The neuroinflammation of the virus and the immune response to it may be responsible for the increase in mental health outcomes after COVID-19.
  • It’s important to seek professional help if you feel your mental health is deteriorating over time.

There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic and the public health measures we had to take have been major contributing factors to the deterioration of people’s mental health. But the infection itself also seems to play a role.

According to a recent study published in BMJpeople who recover from COVID-19 have an increased risk of developing a variety of mental health conditions, such as mood disorders, substance use disorders, and neurocognitive disorders, within a year following acute infection.

The study confirms what medical professionals have observed in practice over the past two years, experts said. With more people infected every day, there is a need for mental health services to be more available and accessible to everyone.

Increased risk of mental health problems

The researchers studied more than 153,000 people with COVID-19 and compared them to a control group of more than 11 million people without the virus. They found that people who recovered from their acute COVID-19 infection had an increased risk of the following:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Stress and adjustment disorders
  • Use of antidepressants and benzodiazepines
  • Opioid Use Disorders
  • Use of naloxone or naltrexone, buprenorphine and methadone
  • Use of illicit drugs
  • Alcohol Use Disorders
  • Disorders using sedatives or hypnotics
  • Neurocognitive decline
  • sleep disorders
  • post-traumatic stress disorder

A study published in Journal of Virology earlier this year also found high levels of post-traumatic stress in people who had had COVID-19.

“We know [long-term psychological effects] can sometimes occur following most acute illnesses, but this study suggests that the rate of mental health problems following COVID infection may well be higher than seen with other viral infections such as the flu, for example, Mark Loafman, MD, MPHfamily physician at Cook County Health, told Verywell.

An earlier study from 2021 published in The Lancet Psychiatry found that the incidence of neurological or psychiatric diagnoses six months after contracting COVID-19 was about 33.62%, and the risk appeared to be higher in those with a severe case. Taken together, these studies demonstrate the need for mental health support in recovered patients.

“It is clear that millions of millions of people in the United States and around the world could develop mental health problems as a result of COVID-19,” Ziyad Al-Aly, MDmain author of BMJ study, head of research and development at the VA Saint Louis Health Care System, told Verywell. “I think health systems and governments should be ready to deal with these patients and it’s very important to deal with them now to prevent them from developing into a wider mental health crisis.”

Research shows that the spread of infectious diseases – such as the SARS epidemic of the early 2000s and the current COVID-19 pandemic – does not only affect the mental health of infected patients, but also their families, workers health and the general public.

How COVID-19 affects mental health

The trauma, fear and uncertainty of having COVID-19 may play a role, but the exact mechanism by which the infection affects an individual’s mental health is still unclear.

“It’s probably biological and driven by the virus and the immune response to it,” Al-Aly said. “The virus and the immune response to it can cause neuroinflammation and lead to changes in brain chemistry, neural connections, and several types of brain cells. All of these could play a role in producing the manifestations we see in people with COVID-19. »

The study included participants who had no psychiatric history – meaning no mental health diagnosis or prescription medication in the two years before they were infected – so researchers could focus on symptoms that occurred after COVID-19.

“It is possible that COVID-19 was more prevalent and more severe in population groups that were already prone to higher rates of mental illness, such as the inner city population or certain minorities,” Paula Zimbrean, MDYale Medicine psychiatrist and associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine, told Verywell.

The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minority groups, low-income communities and other vulnerable populations, who may already be at risk for mental health issues. Being infected with the virus would then put them at much higher risk.

What this means for you

If you or someone you know has mental health issues, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. The call is free and they can refer you to treatment centers, support groups, and any other help you need.

Take care of your mental health

After recovering from COVID-19, it is important that you check in with yourself regularly and take note of any symptoms and potentially harmful coping mechanisms.

“Watch out for signs of potentially dangerous self-medication using alcohol, drugs, or other potentially addictive behaviors and activities,” Loafman said. “The line between enjoying a glass of wine in the evening – safe and healthy for most people – and using alcohol as a sleep aid or to mask depression and anxiety can be a fine one. This is, of course, also true for prescription drugs.

No one should struggle in silence. Be open to seeking professional help if you notice your mental health getting worse over time or if you think you are hurting yourself.

“[If] symptoms persist – for example, unrelenting sadness and lack of concentration, lack of interest and motivation – mental health help should be sought,” Zimbrean said. “The expansion of telemedicine has made treatment more available and more convenient in many parts of the country.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the rapid rise of telemedicine services, which allow people to seek care from the comfort of their homes. If you don’t want to put yourself at risk of reinfection, you can try going to teletherapy sessions instead of going in person.

“For those concerned, I would say to them: you are not alone,” Al-Aly added. “There are millions of people like you in the United States and around the world. It is important to seek help early.

If someone you know has had COVID-19, you can also care for them and give them the support they need.

“As a society, as friends, family members and colleagues, we need to be aware that this is happening,” Al-Aly said. “If we see someone in pain or showing symptoms, we need to make sure we support them, making sure they are aware of the resources that are available to them and helping them get the help they need. needs as soon as possible.”

The information in this article is current as of the date indicated, which means that more recent information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.


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