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November 11, 2020

One in five COVID-19 patients develop mental illness within 90 days, study finds

Those with previous psychiatric diagnoses were 65% more likely to contract the coronavirus

Mental Health COVID-19
coronavirus mental illness study Jude Beck/

One in five COVID-19 patients develop mental illness within 90 days of receiving a positive diagnosis for the coronavirus, a new study from Oxford University revealed.

Psychiatrists are placing more attention on COVID-19's damaging impact on mental health following startling results from a new study. 

The study found that one in five COVID-19 patients are typically diagnosed with a mental illness within 90 days of treatment. Anxiety, depression and insomnia were among the most common psychiatric diagnoses for patients involved in the study.

Research was conducted by scientists at Oxford University and published in the medical journal The Lancet on Monday. The study aimed to determine if a COVID-19 diagnosis increased a person's risk of mental illness.

Scientists analyzed the medical records of 69 million U.S. residents, including more than 62,000 people who had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Results showed that 20% of people who'd tested positive for the coronavirus were diagnosed with psychiatric disorders like anxiety, depression or insomnia for the first time following their COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment.

Patients were typically flagged for mental health problems between 14 and 90 days after they tested positive for COVID-19. 

More serious psychotic disorders were also reported by the study, but were much less likely to be diagnosed. Dementia was reported in a few instances of patients aged 65 and older.

The study also found another link between mental illness and the coronavirus. People with pre-existing mental illnesses were 65% more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than those without diagnosed psychiatric disorders. 

COVID-19 risk also increased when patients had received a psychiatric disorder diagnosis in the year prior to testing positive for the coronavirus. Scientists said these risks weren't explicitly tied to physical risks, but could be connected to socioeconomic factors. 

Other researchers commented on the alarming nature of the study, but said that it could be due to several other factors. 

Doctors told Reuters that the impact on mental health could be due to the psychological stresses of the current pandemic, the physical effects of the illness or the COVID-19's impact on the central nervous system. 

Another scientist from King's College London told AlJazeera that the increased risk of psychiatric diagnoses followed data from previous infectious disease outbreaks.

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