A new study published Tuesday found that people who had COVID-19 may be more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health or neurological condition later on, as more researchers look at both the subsequent effects of the virus and “long COVID” — symptoms felt by coronavirus patients long after their initial infection.

What You Need To Know

  • Research published Tuesday shows a possible link between COVID-19 and mental health conditions, especially anxiety and depression

  • The study published in The Lancet Psychiatry looked at more than 230,000 real-world patient records and found one in three developed some kind of condition within six months

  • Researchers compared the data to the flu to conclude that COVID-19 likely puts a person at higher risk for a mental health or neurological condition, especially those who had a severe version of the virus 

  • One co-author of the study said more research is needed to figure out why COVID-19 can affect the brain, and the study raises additional questions about "long COVID" symptoms

The study, which was conducted at the University of Oxford and published in The Lancet Psychiatry, looked at real-world medical records of more than 230,000 patients, most in the United States.

The researchers found that one in three COVID-19 survivors was diagnosed with a mental health or neurological condition within six months of their initial infection, most commonly anxiety and depression. For 13% of those people, it was their first diagnosis of that kind.

Authors of the study concluded that the results suggest a link between COVID-19 infection and mental health diagnoses. For comparison, they looked at another grous of patients with the same risk factors who had the flu, and they found coronavirus patients were 44% more at-risk. 

Dr. Max Taquet, one of the co-authors, said more research needs to be done to figure out how and why COVID-19 can make patients vulnerable to things like anxiety or depression, but he also noted that people who've had the coronavirus shouldn’t be suprised if symptoms appear. 

“I wouldn't say it's normal at all, but I certainly would say that those are known to happen after COVID, and patients should be looking out for those symptoms,” Dr. Taquet, a fellow at the University of Oxford's Department of Psychiatry, told Spectrum News. “If they do have any of those symptoms, they should seek medical advice for them.”

Another key finding of the study was that the coronavirus may slightly increase the risk of a brain hemorrhage or stroke, especially for those who had severe COVID-19, meaning they were hospitalized or put in intensive care.

For example, about 3% of the people studied who went to the ICU because of COVID-19 had a brain hemorrhage later on, compared to 0.3% of people who were never hospitalized. Nearly 7% had a stroke, compared to 1.3% who didn’t experience severe coronavirus.

“It's rarer, but it's also concerning,” Dr. Taquet said.

Limitations of the study include the fact that because the patients had COVID-19, they may have been more likely to get medical attention and therefore were more likely to receive a mental health diagnosis due to the extra attention. 

Another restriction is that the research was based on real-world data from hospitals all over the country, meaning the standards for diagnoses and medical records were different.

Dr. Taquet also said that Tuesday’s study sparks more questions about the effects of COVID-19 beyond the study's six month timeline.

He also pointed to the need for more research on “long COVID,” when people who have had the virus report things like brain fog, shortness of breath, headaches or worse, usually months after they initially caught COVID-19. Some doctors have begun to call it “COVID Long-Haul Syndrome.”

“This is the type of research that asks more questions, I think, than it answers,” Taquet said.

“Looking into 'long COVID' should be a research priority, too,” he added. “At the moment, we still know very little about this condition which seems to affect quite a lot of patients.”