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New study suggests that having COVID-19 increases a person’s risk of developing psychiatric disorders, and that having a psychiatric disorder increases the chance of getting COVID-19. The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, used the TriNetX electronic health records of 69 million people in the USA including over 62,000 cases of COVID-19.

Facemask and open lock with lockdown written on it and a world map etched into it.

Researchers at the University of Oxford, Department of Psychiatry and NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre, report the first large-scale evidence that COVID-19 survivors are at an increased risk of psychiatric disorders. 

  • Almost 1 in 5 people diagnosed with COVID-19 receive a psychiatric diagnosis within the next 3 months
  • 1 in 4 of these people had not had a psychiatric diagnosis before COVID-19
  • Patients with existing psychiatric disorders might be more likely to get COVID-19

In the 3 months following testing positive for COVID-19, 1 in 5 survivors were found to get a diagnosis of anxiety, depression, or insomnia, for the first time. This is about twice as likely as for other groups of patients over the same period. A diagnosis of dementia may also be commoner. COVID-19 was also associated with more new psychiatric diagnoses in people who already had a history of psychiatric problems. Overall, almost 20 per cent of people received a psychiatric diagnosis within 90 days of getting COVID-19. 

Paul Harrison, Professor of Psychiatry, University Oxford, Theme Lead - NIHR Oxford Health BRC, who led the study, commented, 

‘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. 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 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 the known risk factors for COVID-19 were taken into account. 

Dr Max Taquet, NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow, who conducted the analyses, remarked, 

 

‘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.’

This study was supported by the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre.

To read the full paper, Bidirectional associations between COVID-19 and psychiatric disorder: retrospective cohort studies of 62,354 COVID-19 cases in the USA.