Report: COVID-19 may have long-term effects on mental health in patients

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A new report published in The Lancet this week indicates that patients who have had COVID-19 may suffer negative mental health consequences as a result.

The paper, written by an international group of clinicians, mental health experts, and mental health services users, looked at the challenges COVID-19 presents in terms of mental health.

“For people with COVID-19, lack of contact with their families or loved ones during quarantine and hospital stays can produce psychological instability. High rates of post-traumatic symptoms have been reported in clinically stable people discharged from hospital after recovering from COVID-19,” the paper said.

Researchers found that 32.2 percent of COVID patients develop post-traumatic stress disorders, while 14.9 percent develop depression and 14.8 percent develop anxiety. Additionally, people who have had COVID can experience post-intensive-care syndrome, which includes cognitive, psychological, and neurological symptoms, and dysexecutive syndrome, which affects the brain’s executive function, such as attention control, self-control, and memory functions.

The paper said COVID-19 also affects the mental health of those who have not had the disease.

“The unpredictability and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic; the associated lockdowns, physical distancing, and other containment strategies; and the resulting economic breakdown could increase the risk of mental health problems and exacerbate health inequalities,” the paper said. “Preliminary findings suggest adverse mental health effects in previously healthy people and especially in people with pre-existing mental health disorders.”

Researchers said the general public is showing increased symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress due to the life disruption, fear of illness, and fear of negative economic effects brought on by COVID-19. The result of these mental health issues includes phobic anxiety, panic buying, binge-watching television (associated with mood disturbances, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and impairment in self-regulation), and increases in risky behaviors like online gambling.

Also at risk are healthcare workers and people of color, disproportionally more likely to catch the virus.

The report writers said that measures need to be taken now to address the mental health issues that will result once the pandemic is over.

“Sooner or later, health systems will be faced with widespread demand to address these COVID-19-related mental health needs,” the paper said. “International organizations, including WHO, advocate for integration of mental health and psychosocial support into the COVID-19 response, and a UN policy brief suggests that investments now will reduce the mental health effects later.”

The report recommends that existing services and new practices that arise out of COVID should be expanded. Cost-effective treatment for those who have mental disorders or who developed mental health issues during the pandemic should be a priority. Additionally, the report called for integrating mental health care with primary and secondary care in the aftermath of the pandemic.

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