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One in 5 COVID-19 Survivors Will Develop Mental Illness, a New Study Found—So We Asked an Expert Why



Community Psychiatry’s Julian Lagoy, M.D. was featured in Health discussing the impact being diagnosed with COVID-19 has on mental health. 

Mental illness as well as dementia are alarming potential outcomes of recovering from coronavirus infection.

COVID-19 is an infectious disease that causes respiratory illness, but its effects can go way beyond that. A large study from Oxford University in the UK found that survivors are at a higher risk of developing mental illness, such as anxiety and depression. They are also more likely to develop dementia, according to the research, which was published in The Lancet Psychiatry on November 9.

The researchers analyzed electronic health records of 69 million people in the US, including more than 62,000 people who had COVID-19. They found that 20% of those infected with the coronavirus were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder within 90 days—about twice as likely as for other groups of patients with other illnesses in the same time frame.

A significant factor could be the isolation aspect of COVID-19. “If you’re diagnosed with the illness, you’re advised to quarantine,” psychiatrist Julian Lagoy, MD, who is based in San Jose, California, tells Health. “But humans are social creatures, and being around friends and family is good for our mental (and physical) well-being.” Being in quarantine and isolation has the opposite effect, Dr. Lagoy adds—”it can be very detrimental to your mental health.” And if you have a severe case of COVID-19, the stress and worry concerning your physical health will naturally take its toll on your mental health.

The Oxford University study also found that people with a preexisting mental illness were 65% more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than those without. “This is very interesting,” Dr. Lagoy says. “I suspect this may be because people with mental illness are more likely to exhibit risky behaviors, which put them at risk of COVID-19. For instance, if they’re less likely to isolate and quarantine because it can make their mental illness worse, they are more likely to go out and be with people in order to keep the mental illness stable. However, their risk of getting COVID-19 is then higher.” People who suffer from mental illness may also be less likely to effectively manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, which can increase their risk of COVID-19.

While it has been established that there are some preexisting conditions that increase the likelihood of infection with COVID-19, such as diabetes, hypertension, respiratory conditions, and obesity, researchers have also found that those with a history of psychiatric conditions like bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia, are also at increased risk of infection.

Of course, you don’t have to have a positive COVID-19 diagnosis to feel the mental health impact of the pandemic. In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report showing that 40% of US adults—in particular younger adults, racial and ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid caregivers—”reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19″ during late June 2020. Those mental health conditions included anxiety and depression, substance abuse, trauma or stressor-related disorder, and suicidal ideation.

Click here to read the entire article on Health.