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1 in 5 Covid-19 patients develop mental illness within 90 days: Study

LONDON: Many Covid-19 survivors are likely to be at greater risk of developing mental illness, psychiatrists said on Monday, after a large study found 20 per cent of those infected are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder within 90 days.

Anxiety, depression and insomnia were most common among recovered patients in the study who developed mental health problems, and the researchers also found significantly higher risks of dementia.

"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," said psychiatry professor Paul Harrison of Britain's Oxford University.

Doctors and scientists around the world urgently need to investigate the causes and identify new treatments for mental illness after Covid-19, Prof Harrison said.

"(Health) services need to be ready to provide care, especially since our results are likely to be underestimates ," he added.

The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, analysed electronic health records of 69 million people in the US, including more than 62,000 cases of Covid-19.

In the three months following testing positive for Covid-19, one in five survivors was recorded as having a first diagnosis of anxiety, depression or insomnia.

This was about twice as likely for other groups of patients in the same period, the researchers said.

The study also found that people with a pre-existing mental illness were 65 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with Covid-19 than those without.

Mental health specialists said the findings add to growing evidence that Covid-19 can affect the brain and mind.

Regius professor of psychiatry Simon Wessely at King's College London, said the findings that those with mental health disorders are also at higher risk of getting Covid-19 echoed similar data in previous infectious disease outbreaks.

"Covid-19 affects the central nervous system, and so might directly increase subsequent disorders.

But this research confirms that is not the whole story and that this risk is increased by previous ill health," he said. - REUTERS

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