As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its third year, countless people have experienced varying degrees of uncertainty, isolation and mental health challenges.
However, those who have had COVID-19 have a significantly higher chance of experiencing mental health problems, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System. Such disorders include anxiety, depression, and suicide ideation, as well as opioid use disorder, illicit drug and alcohol use disorders, and disturbances in sleep and cognition.
In a large, comprehensive study of mental health outcomes in people with SARS-CoV-2 infections, researchers found that such disorders arose within a year after recovery from the virus in people who had serious as well as mild infections.
Overall, the study found that people who had COVID-19 were 60% more likely to suffer from mental health problems than those who were not infected, leading to an increased use of prescription medication to treat such problems and increased risks of substance use disorders including opioids and nonopioids such as alcohol and illicit drugs.
The findings are published Feb. 16 in the journal The BMJ.
“We know from previous studies and personal experiences that the immense challenges of the past two years of the pandemic have had a profound effect on our collective mental health,” said senior author Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University. “But while we’ve all suffered during the pandemic, people who have had COVID-19 fare far worse mentally. We need to acknowledge this reality and address these conditions now before they balloon into a much larger mental health crisis.”
More than 403 million people globally and 77 million in the U.S. have been infected with the virus since the pandemic started.