Survivors of acute Covid-19 at increased risk of psychiatric disorders

World Mental Health Day 2022

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Faridabad: The pandemic has taken a heavy toll not only on the physical health of people, but also on their mental wellbeing. A significant proportion of patients in India who survived acute Covid-19 in the last three years are now suffering from some type of mental disorder, with depression and anxiety being the most common. This was said by doctors of Amrita Hospital, Faridabad, in the run up to the World Mental Health Day.

Said Dr. Vikas Gaur, Head of Psychiatry Department at Amrita Hospital, Faridabad: “In my recent research among people from the general population who suffered from Covid in the last two to three years, about 50% of them are now suffering from mental symptoms of some kind such as depression or anxiety. About 26% of people who were ill with Covid are now suffering from sleep disorders and an equal number from anger-related issues. Interestingly, there is also a substantial rise in the onset of new cases of psychosis, a trend not seen earlier.”

The doctor said many people who suffered from Covid-19 are now seeking medical help for cognitive problems related to memory and concentration, which was not seen in the pre-Covid times. “Elderly people above the age of 60 years are especially affected. About 50% of them are now reporting symptoms of significant anxiety, compared to only 2-3% before the pandemic,” said Dr. Vikas Gaur.

Patients who got infected with mild to medium case of Covid and successfully recovered are now suffering from what is being called as the Long Covid Syndrome, according to experts. “After physically recovering from Covid, from third week onwards, many patients are reporting mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep disorders. These are new cases due to the neuro-psychiatric manifestation of Long Covid. Most such cases being reported today are from females, or from patients who had physical comorbidities or a history of mental disorders in the past,” said Dr. Vikas Gaur.

According to the doctor, several theories have been implicated why Covid-19 can trigger mental symptoms. It may significantly increase inflammatory markers in the human brain biologically, which can trigger psychiatric symptoms. Psychosocial issues like loss of job, social isolation, and anxiety about one’s job are also shown to be triggering factors for psychiatric symptoms.

It is important that people showing symptoms of mental disorders seek professional help immediately, especially if they got infected with Covid in recent past. “There are some myths regarding mental illness, such as that suffering from psychiatric disorder of some kind is a sign of weakness. Due to this, patients avoid getting treatment. According to WHO, only 7% of patients suffering from psychosis are being treated worldwide. In low-income countries, only 3% of depression cases get treated,” said Dr. Vikas Gaur.

In 2019, one in every eight people, or 970 million people around the world, were living with a mental disorder, with anxiety and depressive disorders the most common, according to WHO. In 2020, the number of people living with anxiety and depressive disorders rose significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most people with mental disorders do not have access to effective care.

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