Even mild COVID-19 impacts mental health, study finds

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A significant level of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress may follow the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) independent of any previous psychiatric diagnoses, according to new research by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health with colleagues at Universidade Municipal de São Caetano do Sul in Brazil, which was published in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry.

Nasal swabs were collected from residents within a section of Sao Paulo, Brazil, 18 years of age or older with suspected COVID-19 symptoms. Patients were tested at their homes under the supervision of trained healthcare personnel. Those who tested positive for COVID-19 and classified as mild cases with at least two symptoms including fever, cough, sore throat, change in or loss of smell, were further assessed for the presence of psychiatric symptoms approximately two months later.

Significant levels of depressive, anxiety and post-traumatic stress symptoms were reported by 26 percent, 22 percent, and 17 percent, respectively. For comparison purposes, previous estimates of post-traumatic stress levels within Brazil were 8.5 percent demonstrating that the prevalence within individuals presenting with mild COVID-19 increased versus past estimates, the researchers said.

In general, survivors of critical illnesses have a high level of mental symptoms after the condition improves. Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder are among the most reported psychiatric events in patients with these conditions, according to the researchers. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of many across the globe, resulting in an increased burden of physical and mental health consequences.

"Early mental health intervention such as psychotherapy and supportive groups could play an important role in preventing incident mental health problems for post-COVID sufferers," said João Mauricio Castaldelli-Maia, MD, PhD, co-author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School, in a statement. "While further investigations for the possible neurobiological mechanisms linking COVID-19 and mental health conditions are warranted, healthcare systems must prepare for an influx of individuals experiencing psychological distress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic."

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