Scientists have warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a spike in psychiatric and brain disorders after data revealed that a third of more than 230,000 American patients were diagnosed with neurological or mental issues within six months of contracting the virus
The most common conditions found in COVID-19 suffered were depression and anxiety, the study found, and while issues such as dementia and strokes were rarer, they remained significant in those that were hospitalised with the virus.
Of the 236,000 people surveyed, 34% received a positive diagnosis of neurological or psychiatric disorders within six months of their COVID-19 diagnosis. A total of 13% of these had received the diagnosis for the first time.
For those who had been hospitalised with COVID-19, the figure was much higher: 46% of which 26% had received the diagnosis for the first time.
Mood disorders, which affected 14%, and anxiety, which affected 17%, were the most common. A total of 7% of those who were hospitalised with COVID-19 had a stroke within six months.
University of Oxford Professor Paul Harrison said that while the individual risks of neurological and psychiatric disorders were small, the global impact could be substantial.
The study recommends that health authorities need to be prepared to diagnose and treat COVID-19 survivors, while data should be made available to scientists to let work continue.
In comments published alongside the study, Professors Jonathan P Rogers and Anthony S David cautioned that information on the family history of the subjects was scarce, imposing limitations given that many psychiatric conditions are hereditary.
“The onus should be on countries with public health-care systems to enable truly comprehensive national data to be available for research,” they said.
“Sadly, many of the disorders identified in this study tend to be chronic or recurrent, so we can anticipate that the impact of COVID-19 could be with us for many years.”
The results of the study were published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal on Tuesday.