Catching Covid increases risk of mental health problems - including depression and anxiety, study finds

People with coronavirus showed a 60% higher risk of a mental health diagnosis, including depression, anxiety and sleep disorders

People who catch Covid-19 are more likely to go on to suffer from depression and anxiety, a new study suggests.

Experts say the research, published in the BMJ, backs up previous findings linking coronavirus to increased risk of mental health issues but has a longer follow-up, with people tracked for a year.

Sign up to our NationalWorld Today newsletter

People who catch Covid-19 are more likely to go on to suffer from depression (Photo: Adobe)

What did researchers find?

US researchers assessed data for 153,848 people who had contracted coronavirus and compared them with more than 560,000 with no history of Covid, and a further large control group from before the pandemic.

Results showed the Covid-19 was associated with an increased risk of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, substance use and sleep problems, up to a year after infection.

People with coronavirus showed a 60% higher risk of a mental health diagnosis, or needing a mental health prescription at the one-year point, compared with the non-infected group.

Anxiety rates were found to be 35% higher among those who had tested positive for the virus, and 39% higher for depression.

People who have had Covid were also 55% more likely to use antidepressants.

Having had coronavirus meant a small increase (2.4%) in those suffering sleep disorders, and a tiny rise (0.4%) in substance use problems.

Similar results were found when the Covid-19 group was compared with the pre-pandemic group.

The risks were highest in people admitted to hospital but were still apparent in those who recovered at home.

Researchers gathered data from the US Department of Veterans Affairs and most of those assessed in the study were men with an average age of 63.

What needs to be done?

Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the findings show how a Covid-19 infection can have “a devastating and long-lasting mental health impact” and encouraged people to seek help if they are struggling.

He said: “Many people face an uphill battle to rebuild their lives.

“Treatment is vital but complicated by the reality that most people experiencing mental health difficulties after infection don’t seek help.

“Actively monitoring the recovery of patients through a ‘screen and treat’ programme can help make sure they get the right kind of mental health care at the right time.”

Dr Nilu Ahmed, behavioural psychologist at the University of Bristol, added: “The study strengthens the growing evidence base on the need to invest in mental health as part of strategies for social and economic recovery from the pandemic.

“We are still learning about the effects of long Covid, which is resulting in poor mental health as well as physical health, and this study adds to this by highlighting it is not just long Covid that increases the risk of mental health issues.”

A message from the editor:

Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.