CAPE TOWN – Nearly one in five people who have tested positive for Covid-19 are diagnosed with a mental illness.
This is according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford and the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Center.
The calculations were made based on approximately 70 million U.S. health records, including more than 62,000 Covid-19 cases that did not require hospitalization or emergency room visits.
The incidence of any diagnosis of mental illness within 14 to 90 days of a Covid-19 diagnosis was 18.1%, of which 5.8% was a first diagnosis.
“This finding was unexpected and needs investigation. In the meantime, having a psychiatric disorder should be added to the list of risk factors for Covid-19,” said Dr Max Taquet, an NIHR academic clinical fellow and one of the authors of the analysis.
The study also found that people with a pre-existing mental health diagnosis were 65 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with Covid-19 than those without, even accounting for known risk factors such as age, sex, race, and underlying physical conditions.
However, Paul Harrison, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford, said more research was needed to establish whether a diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder could be directly linked to getting coronavirus.
“General factors that influence physical health were not captured in the records analyzed, such as socio-economic background, smoking, or use of drugs. There was also potential that the general stressful environment of the pandemic is playing a role,” said Harrison.
A WHO survey published last month, found that 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.
According to the survey the pandemic is increasing demand for mental health services. Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones.
“Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety. Meanwhile, Covid-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation, and stroke,”
“People with pre-existing mental, neurological or substance use disorders are also more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 infection ̶ they may stand a higher risk of severe outcomes and even death,” said WHO.
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