A major U.S. study found that Covid survivors are at increased risk for depression, sleep problems and drug abuse.
A growing body of research links beating the virus to health problems after a few months, such as fatigue and brain fog.
But now a study of 150,000 people has linked the infection to much more serious mental health problems.
The researchers found that Covid survivors were 40% more likely to become depressed or sleep poorly, and 20% more likely to have substance abuse in the year following Covid infection.
They also had a slightly higher risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicidal thoughts, and panic attacks.
And the more severe their infection was, the more likely they were to report mental health problems, which suggests Covid may play a role.
An article published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) was observational and could not establish a cause.
But depression and anxiety are already linked to “long-term Covid,” a general term that covers a range of illnesses people experience after being infected.
Evidence is already accumulating that Covid damages blood vessels, including those in the brain, which could explain the persisting symptoms.
A large study found that Covid survivors were 40% more likely to become depressed or have trouble sleeping, and 20% more likely to abuse substances within a year of contracting the virus (file image).
Louis University researchers studied 150,000 military veterans, mostly men in their 60s, who tested positive through January 2021. Participants were followed up for a year.
They were compared to a group of 5.6 million veterans who had not yet contracted the virus by that point.
Among Covid-19 survivors, there were approximately 15 additional cases of depression per 1,000 people.
Suicidal ideation was about 46% more common among those who contracted the virus, about two additional cases per 1,000 people.
They were also more likely to suffer from sleep problems: 24 additional cases per 1,000 people.
The scientists also found higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse among Covid survivors, with four and two additional cases per 1,000 people, respectively.
While the study was observational, the researchers pointed to previous studies showing that Covid infections — especially severe seizures — can reduce blood flow to the brain and damage neurons to explain their findings.
Why are Covid survivors more likely to have mental health problems?
Studies conducted early in the pandemic found that those who contracted Covid were more likely to experience mental health problems.
But scientists have not been able to say why this is so.
The anxiety level was higher in the early days due to the virus as lockdowns were put in place and restrictions were put in place.
The scientists say contracting Covid could have led to a further increase in stress because it was a new disease.
They added that the stress of self-isolation likely added to the pressure.
But being forced to leave work, being isolated from family, and not being able to exercise while ill were thought to play a role as well.
Of the study participants who contracted Covid, 20,996 (14%) were hospitalized with severe illness.
Hospitalized patients with Covid are 243% more likely to have mental health problems, representing 177 additional cases per 1,000 people.
But those who didn’t have a severe infection were still 40% more likely to have mental illness, or 31 extra cases per 1,000 people.
Overall, scientists have said that people who contract Covid are 60% more likely to have a mental disorder or prescription than those who do not contract Covid.
Participants in the most recent study were recruited from the US Department of Veterans Affairs National Health Database.
Most of them were men (89 percent), obese (45 percent) or overweight (35 percent).
Weight is one of the biggest risk factors for Covid, with obese people three times more likely to die from the disease, studies show.
Previous research has linked Covid survival to mental health issues.
One Oxford University article published last April found that one in three survivors were diagnosed with depression, anxiety or other problems within six months of defeating the virus.
And a separate paper from the University of Milan found that more than half of the most seriously ill patients later developed mental problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr Max Tacke, a psychiatrist at Oxford University who was not involved in the study, said: “This is a well-conducted study that confirms the results of several previous studies showing that patients are at an increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders after contracting Covid.” health disorders.
“While the data is limited to US veterans, other studies that are representative of a larger population have found similar results.
“The fact that patients are still at increased risk 12 months after being diagnosed with Covid is a concern.
“But whether this represents a belated diagnosis or a new onset of mental illness remains to be determined.”