Coronavirus patients at increased risk of mental illnesses - study

Patients with no prior history of mental illnesses were found to have an increased likelihood of receiving psychiatric diagnosis.

SOME ESTIMATES say more than 300 million people throughout the world suffer from major depression. (photo credit: GENETIKA)
SOME ESTIMATES say more than 300 million people throughout the world suffer from major depression.
(photo credit: GENETIKA)
Patients infected with the coronavirus can suffer from numerous side effects, both physiological and psychiatric, according to a new study published Monday in the academic journal The Lancet.
While experts have widely anticipated that there would be side effects targeting mental health, they haven't been accurately measured.
However, one new study sought to analyze this, and attempted to determine if COVID-19 could trigger adverse psychiatric diagnoses or if mental illnesses could put one at a higher risk of catching the virus.
Titled "Bidirectional associations between COVID-19 and psychiatric disorder: retrospective cohort studies of 62 354 COVID-19 cases in the USA," the study took advantage of the TriNetX Analytics Network, a global network that captures the anonymous data from health care records in the US and totaling nearly 70 million patients, and analyzed 62,354 coronavirus cases. And based on their findings, COVID-19 cases with no history of mental illness were, in fact, around 18.1% more likely to be diagnosed with one within 14 to 90 days. Most commonly, these diagnoses included anxiety disorders, dementia and insomnia.
Meanwhile, those with a history of psychiatric diagnoses were also shown to have a higher risk of being diagnosed with COVID-19. However, as indicated in the study, physically health risks and other socioeconomic factors were not taken into consideration, and it is possible that this could play a role.
It is also noted that many with mental health issues also have higher mortality rates from COVID-19, as detailed in an August study published on medRxiv. This, according to the study, could be due to many possible factors, one of which being the fact that mental illnesses are generally associated with unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as smoking and consumption of alcohol, as well as low socioeconomic status, both of which would be tied to a worse prognosis.
The numerous risks posed by psychiatric diagnoses together with COVID-19 also presents significant challenges for healthcare workers, researchers and policymakers, particularly as mental health services are suffering due to the pandemic. As detailed in early October by the World Health Organization (WHO), “The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide while the demand for mental health is increasing.”
Israel is not exempt from these challenges, either. As the Health Ministry reported Wednesday, the country has seen a 71.2% increase in referrals of patients with serious suicidal thoughts during the second wave compared to the first wave. In addition, the organizations responsible for helping with suicide prevention, especially among new immigrants, have been severely underfunded, with the Knesset Aliyah, Absorption and Diaspora Committee chair MK David Bitan saying that the Health Ministry has failed to transfer NIS 17 million of funds for this purpose.
This is especially troubling for the younger demographic, as suicide is the No. 1 cause of death for those under the age of 24 even before the pandemic hit.
One possible way of combatting this is a new innovative system developed by researchers from Technion-Institute of Technology and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to detect the early onset of suicidal thoughts and tendencies, but it remains to be seen how it can be implemented.
Maayan Hoffman, Hannah Brown and Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.