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COVID-19 survivors more likely to suffer from this

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Women of illness

By Stephen Beech via SWNS

People who catch COVID-19 are 60 percent more likely to suffer mental health issues afterwards, warns new research.

The study, published by The BMJ, found that COVID-19 is associated with an increased risk of mental health disorders - including anxiety, depression, substance use, and sleep disorders - up to a year after initial infection.

Scientists say that their findings suggest that tackling mental health disorders among COVID-19 survivors should be a priority.

Previous smaller studies have suggested that people with the virus might be at increased risk of anxiety and depression, but they included only a small selection of mental health outcomes and tracked patients over a maximum of six months.

The American team behind the new study used figures from the US Department of Veterans Affairs national healthcare databases to estimate the risks of mental health outcomes in people who survived at least 30 days after a positive PCR test result between March 2020 and January last year.

They identified data for 153,848 people and matched them to two control groups without COVID-19: 5,637,840 contemporary controls and 5,859,251 historical controls who predated the pandemic. Participants were mostly white men with an average age of 63.

The COVID-19 group was further divided into those who were or were not admitted to hospital during the acute phase of infection, and information was collected on potentially influential factors including age, race, sex, lifestyle, and health history.

The researchers then followed all three groups for 12 months to estimate the risks of a set of prespecified mental health outcomes, including anxiety, depression and stress disorders, substance use disorders, and sleep issues.

Compared with the non-infected control group, people with COVID-19 showed a 60 percent higher risk of any mental health diagnosis or prescription at one year - the equivalent to an additional 64 per 1,000 people.

When the researchers examined mental health disorders separately, they found that COVID-19 was associated with an additional 24 per 1,000 people with sleep disorders at one year, 15 per 1,000 with depressive disorders, 11 per 1,000 with neurocognitive decline, and four per 1,000 with any substance use disorders.

The researchers said that similar results were found when the COVID-19 group was compared with the historical control group.

Study author Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly said: "The risks were highest in people admitted to hospital during the initial acute phase of COVID-19, but were evident even among those who were not admitted to hospital.

"People with COVID-19 also showed higher risks of mental health disorders than people with seasonal influenza, while people admitted to hospital for COVID-19 showed increased risks of mental health disorders compared with those admitted to hospital for any other reason."

Dr. Al-Aly, Assistant Professor at the University of Washington's School of Medicine, said the findings indicate that a "priority" should be given to tackling mental health issues among COVID-19 survivors.

Scott Weich, professor of mental health at the University of Sheffield, said the findings give a "clearer picture" of the mental health impacts of the pandemic.

Drawing on results from previous studies, he explained that for the general population, COVID-19 and the associated lockdowns caused "transient distress" - related to threat - and those who contracted COVID-19 were at moderately increased risk of anxiety and depression, for the first six months or so.

Prof Welch said: “Taking stock, it could be argued that much of the research concerned with the mental health impacts of COVID-19 represents more hindsight than insight."

He added that society now needs to focus on advancing our understanding of the causes of mental ill health or undertaking research that evaluates treatments for mental disorders more generally.

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