Covid-19 may increase the risk of developing a psychiatric disorder in the months after infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to a study conducted in the US.
Researchers at the Oregon State University (OSU) in the US found that Covid-19 patients had about 25 per cent increased risk of developing a psychiatric disorder in the four months following their infection, compared with people who had other types of respiratory tract infections.
The finding, published in the journal World Psychiatry, supports previous research on psychiatric disorders among post-Covid patients, though the current study found a smaller effect than the earlier studies.
The study used data from the National Covid Cohort Collaborative (N3C) to match 46,610 Covid-19 positive individuals with control patients who were diagnosed with a different respiratory tract infection so they could compare how Covid-19 specifically affected patients' mental health.
The researchers looked at the rate of psychiatric diagnoses for two time periods: from 21 to 120 days after patients' Covid diagnosis, and from 120 to 365 days after diagnosis, limited to patients with no previous mental illness.
They found that Covid-19 patients had a 3.8 per cent rate of developing a psychiatric disorder compared with 3.0 per cent for other respiratory tract infections.
The 0.8 per cent difference amounts to about a 25 per cent increased relative risk, the researchers said.
They looked specifically at anxiety disorders and mood disorders and found a minor but significant increase in risk for anxiety disorders and no change in risk for mood disorders.
The large sample size and the fact that this data cohort draws from across the US gave researchers a unique window into post-Covid side effects, said study co-author Lauren Chan, a PhD student in nutrition in OSU's College of Public Health and Human Sciences. The results emphasise the need for both patients and health care providers to be more proactive when it comes to addressing mental health concerns following Covid infection, she said.
"For people that have had Covid, if you're feeling anxiety, if you're seeing some changes in how you're going through life from a psychiatric standpoint, it's totally appropriate for you to seek some help," Chan said.
"And if you're a care provider, you need to be on the proactive side and start to screen for those psychiatric conditions and then follow up with those patients," she added.
The researchers noted that not every single person who gets Covid-19 is going to have this type of problem, but it is not unheard of, adding people should seek care for themselves or others around them.
"In the larger context of Covid and health care in the US, any increase in the amount of people seeking care, especially psychiatric care, will add further strain to a system that is already stretched to maximum capacity, Chan said.
"We already had struggles in trying to identify a professional to work with, and we're going to keep having difficulties getting people the care they need," she added.