People who are diagnosed with Covid-19 are more likely to develop mental illness, a study has found.

Almost 20% of Covid patients were diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or insomnia within three months of catching the virus, according to the research conducted by the University of Oxford and NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre. 

One in four of these patients had not had a psychiatric disorder before Covid.

The researchers also found that the rate of all diagnoses of psychiatric disorders (including relapses) was higher after Covid-19 diagnosis than it was after six other conditions used in the study – flu, another respiratory tract infection, skin infection, gallstones (cholelithiasis), kidney stones (urolithiasis) and fracture of a large bone.

The analysis of 69 million electronic health records in the US, including 62,000 Covid cases, also found a doubling in the diagnosis of dementia three months after a positive Covid-19 test, compared with the other health conditions, which the researchers said was ‘concerning’.

Pre-existing psychiatric disorders

The findings, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, have confirmed fears that Covid-19 survivors may be at greater risk of mental health problems and the findings require ‘urgent investigation’, the researchers said.

Paul Harrison, professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford, said: ‘Services need to be ready to provide care, especially since our results are likely to be underestimates of the actual number of cases. We urgently need research to investigate the causes and identify new treatments.’

The study also revealed that patients with pre-existing psychiatric disorders were 65% more likely to get Covid-19 than those without, even when the other known risk factors were taken into account.  

The researchers said possible explanations for this could include behavioural factors, such as less adherence to social distancing guidelines, and residual socio-economic and lifestyle factors, such as smoking.

‘It could also be that vulnerability to Covid-19 is increased by the proinflammatory state postulated to occur in some forms of psychiatric disorder or be related to psychotropic medication,’ the report added.

Dr Max Taquet, a NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow who conducted the analyses said this finding was ‘unexpected and needs investigation,’ and in the meantime, having a psychiatric disorder should be added to the list of risk factors for Covid-19.

Role of pharmacists in mental health care

Earlier this year, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) called for pharmacists to take a central role in the mental health care of those who have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The body said pharmacy is ‘one of the most accessible of health professional groups’ and is therefore a ‘crucial component’ of mental health treatment.

Meanwhile, speaking on BBC Hereford and Worcestershire last week, NPA chairman Andrew Lane told radio listeners that pharmacies are well placed in the community to help patients suffering from mental health issues.

In July, the Government outlined plans to train 50 community-based specialist mental health pharmacists, as part of a plan to expand and develop the NHS workforce.