COVID-19 survivors seeing long-term effects on mental health

by: Alex Stokes

COVID-19 has taken a physical toll on millions of people. Now, a new study from the UK suggests survivors are seeing long-term effects on their mental health as well.

“Sometimes it’s you know the things that we don’t think about as much after a hospitalization or an illness that can really have an impact on a patient and their family,” said University Hospitals Psychiatrist Susan Padrino. “This was a medical record review study and they had very large population that they looked at and very large comparison populations.”

Published recently in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry, researchers found that of the more than 230,000 participants mostly in the United States; 1 in 3 COVID survivors suffered from a neurological or mental disorder within 6 months of infection.

Padrino says they knew before that infectious diseases like the flu have been related to brain and psychiatric symptoms, however, “COVID-19 infections seem to have a greater likelihood of causing brain or psychiatric symptoms after an infection, even when the infection isn’t very severe.”

The most common mental health diagnoses were anxiety and mood disorders. 

“Anxiety is not uncommon again, after hospitalization, especially one in which the person might be in the ICU, it can be very frightening,” she said.

Although neurological diagnoses were more uncommon, they were more prevalent in patients who had severe symptoms during their covid infection.

For example, seven percent of patients admitted to intensive care had a stroke and two percent were diagnosed with dementia. 

“To the degree as being diagnosed with dementia, that is a little bit surprising, especially just in six months,” said Padrino while noting it’s an area that will need to be studied further.

The study found many people reporting these impairments had never experienced them before.
Padrino says these results do worry her. 

“It’s partly the scope of the behavioral health symptoms, and it’s partly the number of people that are being impacted all at the same time,” she added.

She says in the healthcare system there should be more of an effort to combine behavioral health and medical health as they are often intertwined. 

“We really can’t understand the full scope of what people are going through without addressing both,” said Padrino.

Padrino says if you’re having any symptoms after infection especially after 8 weeks you should be reaching out to your health care provider. She also recommends COVID recovery clinics that are open throughout the city, including at University Hospitals, as a resource.

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