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1 out of 5 coronavirus survivors develop mental illness, according to a new study

As if contracting coronavirus wasn’t stressful enough, survivors may also be more likely to develop mental health issues. According to a new study released yesterday, 1 in 5 coronavirus survivors are diagnosed with a mental illness within three months of contracting the virus, reported Reuters. Anxiety, depression, and insomnia were some of the most common psychiatric diagnoses found in patients.

The study, which was published in psychiatric journal The Lancet Psychiatry, used anonymous data from over 69 million Americans, about 62,000 of which had tested positive for COVID-19. What researchers found was within 90 days of testing positive for the virus, 1 in 5 survivors were recorded as having a first time diagnosis of anxiety, depression or insomnia. They compared this data with the mental health data of people with other illnesses — like the flu — and people who have been sick with COVID-19 are about twice as likely to develop mental health issues, according to the study.

The research also found that people who have pre-existing psychiatric conditions were 65% more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than those who did not. Some experts think this combination of factors — that people with mental health issues are more likely to get COVID-19 and also that people who get COVID-19 are more likely to develop mental illness — adds to the evidence that coronavirus has an impact on the brain, Reuters reported.

“People have been worried that COVID-19 survivors will be at greater risk of mental health problems, and our findings ... show this to be likely,” Paul Harrison, a professor of psychiatry at Oxford and co-author of the study told Reuters. Harrison also said that health providers around the world urgently need to study the causes of mental health issues in COVID-19 survivors and develop new treatments to deal with them in this ever increasing segment of the global population.

Doctors are still not sure why COVID-19 has such a large impact on the brain and mental health. “COVID-19 affects the central nervous system, and so might directly increase subsequent disorders. But this research confirms that is not the whole story,” Simon Wessely, regius professor of psychiatry at King’s College London, told Reuters. Other factors could include a patient's previous ill health and a combination of the psychological stressors of the pandemic with the physical effects of the illness.