Analysis of published articles on patients hospitalized with SARS and MERS suggests a tendency to develop depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder in the long term.
Most people who were hospitalized with Covid-19 and recovered do not experience any short-term impact on their mental health – but in the long run, this is a real possibility. This is the conclusion of a research study led by scientists from University College London, in England, published this Monday (18) in the scientific journal The Lancet Psychiatry.
The conclusion was based on 72 studies carried out in different countries and involving more than 3,500 people hospitalized with Covid-19, Sars and Mers, respiratory syndromes caused by other types of coronavirus. The analysis focused on diagnosing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is the first systematic review and meta-analysis of the possible psychiatric consequences of these diseases.
The results suggest that delirium – changes in consciousness, behavioral disorders, and hallucinations – is not common during hospitalization for these diseases – although it can occur in severe cases. In the specific case of Covid-19, however, it is still necessary to investigate further. “With few data yet for COVID-19, high quality, peer-reviewed research into psychiatric symptoms of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 as well as investigations to mitigate these outcomes is needed,” said Jonathan Rogers, one of the researchers, in a statement to the press.
The long-term consequences
The researchers also analyzed studies regarding the development of long-term mental health problems in people hospitalized for SARS or MERS. According to them, these patients are at high risk for depression, anxiety, fatigue, and PTSD.
Within six to 39 months after hospitalization, the probability of these people experiencing insomnia was 12%; anxiety, 12%; irritability, 13%; memory impairment, 19%; fatigue, 19%; and frequent recall of traumatic memories, 30%.
“While there is little evidence to suggest that common mental illnesses beyond short-term delirium are a feature of COVID-19 infection, clinicians should monitor for the possibility that common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, and PTSD could arise in the weeks and months following recovery from severe infection, as has been seen with SARS and MERS,” notes Rogers.
The authors note that the study has several methodological limitations and that not all articles evaluated were considered to be of “very high quality” by the academic community. In addition, the assessment may have been affected by the fact that the description of symptoms was made by the patients themselves.
In a comment on the study, Iris Sommer, a researcher at the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands, who was not involved in the research, highlights that relying on previous outbreaks is useful, but it is not an accurate predictor of the prevalence of psychiatric complications of patients with Covid-19.
Still, Sommer writes: “The warning from Rogers and colleagues that we should prepare to treat large numbers patients with COVID-19 who go on to develop delirium, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression is an important message for the psychiatric community.”