COVID-19 survivors are likely to be at greater risk of developing mental illness, psychiatrists have said after a large study found that 20% of those infected with the virus are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder within 90 days.

Anxiety, depression and insomnia were most common among recovered COVID-19 patients who were involved in the study and researchers also found significantly higher risks of dementia, a brain impairment condition, in them.

“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 Paul Harrison, a professor of psychiatry at Britain’s Oxford University.


Doctors and scientists around the world instantly need to examine the causes and identify new treatments for mental illness after COVID-19, Harrison said.

“(Health) services need to be ready to provide care, especially since our results are likely to be underestimates (of the number of psychiatric patients),” he added.

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In the three months following testing positive for COVID-19, 1 in 5 survivors was recorded as having a first-time diagnosis of anxiety, depression, or insomnia. This was about twice as likely as 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% more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than those without.

Mental health specialists not directly involved with the study said its findings add to growing evidence that COVID-19 can affect the brain and mind, increasing the risk of a range of psychiatric illnesses.