A new study published in the journal The BMJ revealed that patients that recover from COVID-19 are more likely to suffer from mental health challenges. According to researchers who reviewed the records of 154,000 patients in the Veterans Health Administration system, patients are 60% more likely to experience mental and emotional problems one year after recovering from the pandemic.
Lead researcher Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly said people are at greater risks of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, alcohol, and drug use, as well as sleep disturbances after they are treated and fully recovered from COVID.
“If after COVID-19 people are suffering from sleep problems or depression or anxiety, you’re not alone,” Al-Aly said. “We see thousands of people like you. Definitely seek help. We see an increased risk of opioid use. We see an increased risk of suicidal ideation, we see depression, we see anxiety, and to me, it’s almost like a perfect storm for another opioid epidemic and another suicide epidemic.”
The clinical epidemiologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System said physicians should be mindful of the post-covid impacts on patients in order to arrest a much larger crisis that could disrupt individual, family, and community life. He noted that the damaging impacts of the pandemic should be taken seriously even after an individual recovers from the disease.
“The virus can actually enter the brain and cause an array of different problems, including disruption of neuron connections, the elevation of some inflammatory markers, disruption of signaling, and changes in the architecture of the brain, which may also explain the brain fog or neurocognitive [thinking] decline,” he explained.
Breaking down the results of their study, the research team found that people who recovered from COVID-19 are 35% likely to suffer anxiety and 40% likely to experience depression and mental stress. About 55% more patients used more antidepressants to deal with their mental health issues, and the use of benzodiazepines increased by 65% for the treatment of anxiety.
Furthermore, 41% more can suffer sleep difficulties and 80% more can experience cognitive declines such as lack of concentration, forgetfulness, and confusion. About 24% of patients may use opioids more and 20% may become addicted to alcohol and other illicit drugs, while 46% may continue to nurse suicidal thoughts.
Ultimately, the researchers found that the severity of the COVID-19 on an individual determines the risks of developing mental challenges. People with a mild infection are at 27% risk of suffering mental decline, and those with severe infection are 45% more likely to experience emotional and mental breakdown one year after recovery.