The Unexpected Effects COVID-19 Can Have On Your Mental Health

At the start of the pandemic, many experienced mental health difficulties related to quarantine, scarcity of protective equipment, isolation, a lack of information, and a fear of infection (via The Lancet). Now, more than two years later, the availability of masks has increased, lockdown restrictions have been lifted, and health officials continue to provide the public with growing information as it becomes available. While stress and anxiety related to the initial uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic may have eased, new research reveals that a growing rate of mental health struggles may stem from the infection itself.

A 2022 study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, suicidal thoughts, alcohol use disorders, and opioid use disorders were highly prevalent in those who contracted COVID-19. Beyond that, 60% of COVID-19 positive patients experienced mental health effects up to a year after diagnosis (via HealthDay).

Researchers aimed to study COVID-19 effects of roughly 154,000 United States veterans. The veteran's group was compared to two control groups: 6 million people who had not been diagnosed with COVID-19, and 6 million people from before pandemic (via HealthDay). The findings revealed mental health support is a much-needed priority, and here's why.

A direct relationship between COVID-19 symptoms and mental health

The study showed that those with COVID-19 had a 35% higher risk of anxiety, 40% higher risk of depression, 46% higher rate of suicidal ideation, and 34% higher likelihood of opioid addiction (via HealthDay).

Researchers also discovered a significant correlation between the severity of a patient's mental health condition and the severity of their COVID-19 illness. According to HealthDay, those with mild symptoms had a 27% higher risk of developing a mental health condition, while those with severe COVID-19 symptoms were 45% more susceptible.

Lead researcher of the study and clinical epidemiologist, Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, encourages those experiencing mental health concerns to seek help and stresses the importance of early intervention on behalf of healthcare professionals. He tells HealthDay, "Physicians really need to understand that COVID-19 is a risk factor for these problems. So definitely ask about mental health, ask about sleep, ask about pain. Most importantly, diagnose these conditions early and address them before they become much, much worse crises down the road."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.