New Study Suggests People Who Have Recovered from COVID-19 Have a Higher Risk for Mental Health Issues

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
December 2, 2020
Covid and depression

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that can wreak havoc on your health. While most people experience symptoms similar to a strong cold or bout of flu and recover within a few weeks, some people develop serious complications such as lung infections, pneumonia and acute respiratory failure. They may also be saddled with permanent damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs and heart.

COVID-19 and Mental Health Issues

But there’s one complication that’s been largely overlooked: mental health illnesses. One in five people who recover from COVID-19 are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder within three months, according to a study published in The Lancet.      

University of Oxford researchers obtained data from electronic medical records for more than 69.8 million patients in the United States -- 62,000 of which were diagnosed with COVID-19. Researchers identified if patients had risk factors for contracting COVID; chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic asthma/COPD; or another health issue in the past year such as a major bone break, kidney stone or bout of the flu. They then tracked patients to see if they were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder between 14 and 90 days after their COVID-19 diagnosis. Results found:     

  • Slightly more than 18 percent of patients were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder such as dementia, depression, anxiety and insomnia (a common indicator of and/or co-condition of a psychiatric disorder). 
  • Almost six percent of psychiatric diagnoses were new; in other words, patients did not have a history of mental illness.
  • Psychiatric diagnoses after recovering from COVID were two times higher than being diagnosed with a psychiatric condition after recovering from influenza.
  • Hospitalized COVID-19 patients had a higher risk of a psychiatric diagnosis than non-hospitalized patients.
  • People with psychiatric disorders were 65 percent more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Researchers emphasized that they only tracked three months after recovery and wondered what the results might be if they tracked six months after recovery. Long-term follow ups could show a higher percentage of psychiatric cases or that patients’ mental health resumed to pre-COVID status.

“This study is very important,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “For people struggling with mental health issues, it serves as a warning to be vigilant about complying with CDC recommendations and to talk to your doctor to help you manage your mental health issues. It’s also a red flag for all COVID patients with and without a history of mental illness. Pay attention to your emotions and brain health as you recover from the virus.” 

Researchers don’t have definitive answers as to how mental health and COVID are related, but speculate that the fear, sadness and isolation associated with COVID-19 are possible catalysts. Psychologists working with recovered COVID patients report that many of them have a difficult time shaking their fear of being sick and coming to terms with their possible mortality. Meanwhile, patients who are grateful and feel they have a second lease on life have fared better in terms of their mental health. 

“As we move through the COVID pandemic, I can’t stress enough the importance of working with your primary care physician,” says Kaminetsky. “PCPs are the lynch pin of your health. They can help you develop a strong immune system, manage chronic conditions and maintain your mental health – primary components of weathering this pandemic.”

Don’t have a doctor? Consider partnering with MDVIP. MDVIP doctors have the time to work with you to help you develop a personalized wellness program that can focus on mental health. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »  

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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