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Are You More Likely to Have Mental Illness after COVID-19?

Are You More Likely to Have Mental Illness after COVID-19?

As medical experts continue to learn about COVID-19, new research shows a significant connection between the virus and mental health. Nearly one in five people diagnosed with COVID-19 is diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder like anxiety, depression or insomnia within three months.

The relationship between mental illness and COVID-19 is a two-way street, according to the study: People with a psychiatric diagnosis were about 65% more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than people without.

But, the “why” is something researchers are still working to uncover. The study controlled for physical risk factors and those who were having serious housing and economic difficulties, but the risk persisted. Those with difficult hospital stays may experience post-traumatic stress. And younger patients may be particularly feeling the stress of an unexpected long recovery.

Nationwide, the median age of COVID-19 cases dropped from 46 years in May to 38 years in August. And for a period, the virus was most prevalent in the 20-29 age group. It can be frustrating to have an illness with so many unknowns, leading many to wonder if they’ll ever feel “normal” again.

The study found some other key trends:

  • A patient hospitalized for COVID-19 had a higher risk of psychiatric diagnosis than someone not requiring hospitalization
  • People recovering from COVID-19 were about twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder compared with someone who had the flu
  • There is an increased risk of dementia in those recovering from COVID-19

Many COVID-19 survivors report a host of mental health issues, including sleep problems and distressing dreams, anxiety, memory issues, and even thoughts of death. COVID-19 “long-haulers” – those with lingering symptoms and months of illness – may struggle to get back to normal life, which can contribute to anxiety and depression.

Earlier research from the University of Maryland School of Medicine estimated that between one-third and one-half of COVID-19 patients experienced some form of mental health problem including anxiety, depression, fatigue or abnormal sleeping. As a result, in September Baton Rouge General launched its “Coping After COVID” support group. The free resource provides a safe, supportive environment for COVID survivors to share their experiences and coping tools, and it gives them a means to exchange tips for managing both mental and physical symptoms.