According to a new analysis, people who recover from COVID-19 are more likely to have conditions that affect their mental health or their brain and nervous system, compared to people who recover from the flu or other respiratory diseases. In other words, if you’ve been having mental health issues after COVID, you are not alone.
What did the study find?
The new study, published in Lancet Psychiatry, explored millions of medical records to see what diagnoses people were given after a case of COVID. The investigators found a wide variety of “neurological and psychiatric” outcomes, ranging from stroke to anxiety and depression. Many of these issues occurred in people with severe cases of COVID, but there were still plenty in people with mild and moderate cases of the disease.
About a third of COVID patients had one of these diagnoses, and 12.8% of people with COVID had a new diagnosis after their bout with the coronavirus. The rest included people who had ongoing conditions or who had had a condition in the past and saw it return.
It’s likely that not all of these are directly related to COVID; for example, if you were depressed in the past, you might have depression again whether or not you had gotten sick in the meantime. But on the other hand, there does seem to be something special about COVID, and it’s reflected in the numbers.
We already know that COVID raises the risk of stroke, and that spending time in an intensive care unit raises the risk of delirium, which can include confusion and memory problems. We also don’t know about people who had COVID but didn’t show up to a doctor or hospital for treatment; they aren’t included in this study.
Some people who have recovered from a COVID infection have also described cognitive problems that are being dubbed “brain fog,” and which may be linked to the way the coronavirus affects the brain, or to an immune system response.
A pair of psychiatrists wrote in an accompanying editorial that some of the mental health conditions that follow COVID may be “psychosocial.” In other words, you may end up with something like depression or anxiety as a result of your experience in the world—hospital visits, isolation, maybe issues with work or finances—rather than just because the coronavirus did something to your brain.
Whatever the exact reason, this study emphasizes that COVID and mental health issues are linked, so if you haven’t felt like yourself since getting over the infection, you are truly not alone. Check out “long COVID” support groups if you’d like to connect with others, and consider that it may be time to find a therapist to deal with any lingering (or new) mental health issues.