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Oxford study confirms link between COVID-19 infection and subsequent mental illness

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One in three people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 will experience a mental health condition within six months, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the University of Oxford, confirms a link between COVID-19 infection and subsequent mental health and neurological conditions.

The observational study looked at the patient health records of more than 230,000 people infected by the coronavirus and looked for evidence of 14 neurological and mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

This group was then compared against a cohort of over 100,000 patients who were diagnosed with influenza and more than 236,000 patients diagnosed with any respiratory tract infection.

It was found that the risk of developing a neurological or mental health disorder following COVID-19 infection was around 44 per cent higher compared to flu, and 16 per cent higher compared to respiratory tract infection, with around one in three people reporting symptoms of mental illness within six months.

Commenting on the report, lead author Professor Paul Harrison said: “These are real-world data from a large number of patients. They confirm the high rates of psychiatric diagnoses after COVID-19, and show that serious disorders affecting the nervous system (such as stroke and dementia) occur too. While the latter are much rarer, they are significant, especially in those who had severe COVID-19.

“Although the individual risks for most disorders are small, the effect across the whole population may be substantial for health and social care systems due to the scale of the pandemic and that many of these conditions are chronic. As a result, health care systems need to be resourced to deal with the anticipated need, both within primary and secondary care services.”

The latest figures suggest that around one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, with the most common illnesses being anxiety and depression.