Covid: Study discovers when the risk of ‘psychiatric diagnosis’ is highest post-infection

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The physical health risks of COVID-19 have fixated scientists for years, but studies suggest a mental health crisis is unfolding too. Reports of depression, anxiety, stress, and substance use disorders are rife among those diagnosed with the virus. The findings of a new study, however, have helped pinpoint when these complications are most likely to emerge.

According to the latest study, the most marked psychiatric effects of the virus may be four months after contracting the virus.

The recent findings suggest the risk of a psychiatric diagnosis may be higher between 120 and 365 days after a diagnosis.

Co-author of the study, Lauren Chan, from OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, said: “For people who have had COVID, if you’re feeling anxiety, if you’re seeing some changes in how you’re going through life from a psychiatric standpoint, it’s totally appropriate for you to seek health.

“And if you’re a care provider, you need to be on the proactive side and start to screen for those psychiatric conditions and then follow up with those patients.”

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The findings emerged from a study of 46,610 COVID-19 positive patients who were matched with controls diagnosed with different respiratory tract infections.

The aim of the study was to identify how the coronavirus, specifically, affected the mental health of patients.

Miss Chan noted: “There could certainly be people who are struggling with new things like this, and they need that additional support or push to seek some help.

“I don’t mean to say that every single person who gets COVID is going to have this type of problem, but if you start to have concern for yourself or a family member, it’s not unheard of.

“You should definitely seek care for yourself or others around you.”

The rate of psychiatric diagnoses was studied in the context of two periods, from 21 to 120 days after a patient’s diagnosis, and 120 to 365 days after diagnosis.

The data was limited to patients who have no history of mental illness and looked specifically at anxiety and mood disorders.

According to the findings, Covid patients had a 3.8 percent higher rate of developing a psychiatric disorder compared with a 3.0 percent for other respiratory tract infections.

This 0.8 percent difference, equates to about a 25 percent increased relative risk, the authors noted.

The spectrum of mental health disorders observed so far has been broad, but the most concerning are suicidal ideation and opioid use.

Researchers are still working to understand how the coronavirus impacts brain function, but this has yet to be confirmed.

The economic downturn that’s followed the pandemic is believed to be fuelling the growing prevalence of mental health disorders.

There is speculation, however, that increased inflammation in the brain could trigger psychiatric effects among Covid survivors.

Maura Boldrini, neuroscientist and psychiatrist at Columbia University Bagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, has studied several neurological changes associated with behavioural symptoms, including suicidal ideation.

She noted: “Previously, our group has found increased inflammation in the brains of people who die by suicide.

“And we’re now investigating if COVID-related inflammation can trigger suicidal thinking and other psychiatric effects.”

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