People who've been through a bout of COVID may be more vulnerable to mental health disorders in the months following their infection, a new study warns.
Researchers analyzed data on more than 46,000 people in the United States who tested positive for COVID-19 and an equal number of people with other types of respiratory infections. None had a previous known psychiatric disorder.
COVID-19 patients were about 25% more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition in the four months after their infection than those with other types of respiratory infections (3.8% vs. 3%), the study found.
When they focused on anxiety and mood disorders, the investigators discovered a minor but significant increase in risk for anxiety disorders among COVID-19 patients, but no increased risk of mood disorders.
The findings show the need for patients and their health care providers to be aware of the potential for mental health issues after COVID-19, said study co-author Lauren Chan, a Ph.D. student in nutrition in Oregon State University's College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
"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 in a university news release.
"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.
"I don't want to say that every single person who gets COVID is going to have this type of problem, but if you start to have concern for yourself or a family member, it's not unheard of. You should definitely seek care for yourself or others around you," Chan said.
She also noted that an increase in COVID-19 patients seeking care for psychiatric conditions could further strain a U.S. mental health system already at maximum capacity.
"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," Chan said. "If we do see this kind of increase in post-COVID psychiatric conditions, and people are recognizing them and trying to seek care, it poses some concern."
The study was published recently in the journal World Psychiatry.