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Some COVID-19 survivors suffer psychiatric disorders

More than half of patients who receive hospital treatment for Covid-19 later develop a psychiatric disorder, a study reveals. 

A total of 402 coronavirus patients at San Raffaele hospital in Milan were assessed as part of a research project to see the long-term impacts of the virus on the brain. 

It revealed that one month after leaving hospital, a large amount of people suffered from either post-traumatic stress (PTSD), anxiety, insomnia or depression.


The survey showed that more than half of the patients – 265 men and 137 women – experienced at least one of these disorders. 

‘It was immediately clear that the inflammation caused by the disease could also have repercussions at the psychiatric level,’ said professor Francesco Benedetti, group leader of the Research Unit in Psychiatry and Clinical Psychobiology at San Raffaele, in a statement.

The report was published in the scientific journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

Based on clinical interviews and self-assessment questionnaires, physicians found PTSD in 28 per cent of cases, depression in 31 per cent, anxiety in 42 per cent of patients and insomnia in 40 per cent, and finally obsessive-compulsive symptoms in 20 per cent.

Women are less likely to die from Covid-19 than men but this study found they are more at-risk of suffering from induced anxiety and depression, the study reveals.  

The researchers are unsure why this is but believe it may be due to the immune systems of men and women functioning slightly differently.  

Covid-19’s most lethal symptoms are caused by inflammation, when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive and its attacks on the virus go haywire. 

Clinicians try and control this response but it can be like a runaway train once initiated. 

It is thought the resulting inflammation can be devastating for the brain. This is then compounded by the psychological stress factors such as stigma, social isolation and worries about infecting others, the study states. 

The results will underscore growing concerns about potential debilitating health complications for survivors of the disease.

Earlier this month, scientists warned of a potential wave of coronavirus-related brain damage in people who have had the disease. 

A May study from Australia found evidence that between one and four per cent of people infected with virus developing psychosis-like symptoms.

This can manifest itself as hallucinations and hearing voices, the scientists say.

A July paper looked at the impact of inflammation on the brain and found infection with the coronavirus can cause delirium, stroke and nerve damage in ‘a higher than expected number of patients’.

Experts from University College London have reported a ‘concerning increase’ amid the pandemic of a rare brain inflammation known to be triggered by viral infections.

Typically seen in children, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis — or ‘ADEM’, for short — affects the both the brain and spinal cord. 

The condition sees immune cells activated to attack the fatty protective coating that covers nerves.

Writing in the latest paper, the researchers say: ‘PTSD, major depression, and anxiety are all high-burden non-communicable conditions associated with years of life lived with disability.

‘Considering the alarming impact of Covid-19 infection on mental health, the current insights on inflammation in psychiatry, and the present observation of worse inflammation leading to worse depression, we recommend to assess psychopathology of Covid-19 survivors and to deepen research on inflammatory biomarkers, in order to diagnose and treat emergent psychiatric conditions.’

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