COVID-19: One in five patients risk developing mental health disorder

Researchers at the University of Oxford found this potentially frightening new link between COVID-19 and mental illness. The authors of the study said more research was needed as they were unsure why the virus would increase mental health problems in people with otherwise no prior history of mental illness.


The study analysed data from 69 million people in the US, 62,000 of whom were COVID-19 patients.

The most common disorders reported after people developed the disease were anxiety disorders, depression and insomnia.


The study, published in The Lancet, found one in five people diagnosed with COVID-19 developed some form of mental illness 90 days after being diagnosed with the disease. The patients had not had mental health disorders before contracting the coronavirus.

The study also found that people over the age of 65 who had developed COVID-19 were more likely to receive their first diagnosis of dementia within 90 days.

COVID-19 dementia depression mental health
The study found that those over 65 who had COVID-19 were also at greater risk of being diagnosed with dementia a few months later. Image: Adobe Stock

Simon Wessely, a psychiatry professor at King’s College London, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters the link between mental health and COVID-19 might be explained by how the virus attacks the central nervous system.

A study published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology in October found that 80% of people hospitalised with COVID-19 had neurological symptoms like muscle aches, dizziness and confusion.

Mental health consequences are not the only neurological symptoms exhibited by COVID-19 patients. It also found one-third of of these patients sustained encephalopathy.

Encephalopathy is a disease in which the functioning of the brain is affected by some agent or condition such as viral infection or toxins in the blood.


The study authors also said they were surprised to find how vulnerable prior mental illness made people to contracting COVID-19. People who had existing mental health conditions before the pandemic were 65% more likely to contract the virus.

Dr Maxime Taquet, lead author of the study, said: “This is important when we think of the people at risk which should receive the vaccine first.

“It might be that a history of mental illness should be considered in this decision.”