Why Experts Say Severe COVID Can Lead To Anxiety, Depression, And Bipolar Disorder

Research has been well underway over potential links between cases of severe COVID-19 and long-term mental health effects in those diagnosed.

In March 2022, a study was published in The Lancet that examined the mental health states of more than 247,000 adult participants across six countries following either a minor or severe case of COVID-19 infection. It was found that compared to those with severe COVID-19, those with mild symptoms were less susceptible to developing mental health conditions in the long run. People with cases of severe COVID-19 who had been confined to their beds for a period of at least seven days were more prone to depression, anxiety, and sleep difficulties within 16 months following infection (via HealthDay).

Now, utilizing health data from over 8 million European patients, a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry finds that those previously hospitalized due to severe COVID-19 complications may be at an increased risk for additional mental health disorders that extend beyond anxiety and depression to include psychotic disorders, dementia, and bipolar disorder. In analyzing 32,525 COVID hospitalization cases and 16,679 cases of hospitalization for other severe acute respiratory infections, researchers determined that both groups were at an increased risk for developing a mental health condition within one year compared to those treated in hospitals for other illnesses (via Healthline).

The importance of mental health care following COVID hospitalization

Offering a possible explanation, psychiatrist Dr. Alex Dimitriu tells Healthline that cases of COVID-19 severe enough to warrant hospitalization often involve complications such as sepsis or hypoxia, which can impact the health of brain tissue.

Additionally, psychiatrist Dr. David A. Merrill explains via Healthline that the long-term effects of COVID infection can extend well beyond the brain, stating, "COVID is a whole-body syndrome. It is not surprising that there are psychiatric effects from the virus. We see both medical and psychological long-term effects with the fallout found from head to toe. This might be from the virus itself, from inflammation, or immunologic factors."

These study findings further highlight the importance of mental health aftercare for severe COVID-19 patients. According to experts, this includes educating patients and their families about monitoring for signs of mental illness (via Healthline).

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.