Africa Defense Forum
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Mental Health Issues May Linger For Years After COVID-19 Infection


The risks of COVID-19 patients suffering from mental disorders, such as psychosis, seizures, brain fog and dementia remained heightened in some people two years after contracting the virus, according to a new study.

The study, published in the Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, included patients who suffered from a variety of COVID-19 variants and subvariants. Although the omicron strain typically causes milder symptoms, some patients showed a heightened risk of ongoing mental health issues five months after infection.

Data was gleaned from about 1.25 million COVID-19 patients between January 2020 to April 2022. The study included children under 18 and adults older than 65.

“Our study is observational and so cannot explain how or why COVID is associated with these risks,” Paul Harrison, a psychiatry professor at the University of Oxford, wrote in The Conversation. “Current theories include persistence of the virus in the nervous system, the immune reaction to the infection or problems with blood vessels.”

The study also revealed that COVID-19 patients were more likely to receive their first neurological or psychiatric diagnosis after their first infection. Depression and other mental illnesses also are associated with greater risk of more severe COVID-19, including the risk of hospitalization, which is a risk factor for long COVID, the study showed.

During the pandemic’s first year, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in March.

According to the WHO, young people became disproportionately at risk of suicidal or self-harming behaviors during the pandemic. Women generally have been more severely affected than men, while people with preexisting health conditions, such as asthma, cancer and heart disease, were more likely to develop symptoms of mental disorders.

In Africa, several studies showed increased prevalence of anxiety, depression and insomnia during the pandemic.

South African health officials are working to help people access mental health information, community support and expert help through a local app called Panda. Users can anonymously join daily, live and audio-only sessions on various topics and access a library of mental health-related content.

Users also can book one-on-one virtual consultations with psychologists and psychiatrists. The platform is free, but the company will start charging a fee in 2023.

“To better understand individual mental health journeys, screening assessments can be completed in the app, after which personalized feedback and suggestions for care are generated for each user,” Alon Lits, co-owner and co-chief executive officer of Panda, told ITWeb.

Links to Long COVID

Another study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health showed that people who experienced depression, anxiety, worry, perceived stress or loneliness before a COVID-19 diagnosis had an increased risk of experiencing long COVID. The study was published online by the peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA Psychiatry.

“We were surprised by how strongly psychological distress before a COVID-19 infection was associated with an increased risk of long COVID,” Siwen Wang, a Harvard researcher who led the study, said on the university’s website. “Distress was more strongly associated with developing long COVID than physical health risk factors such as obesity, asthma and hypertension.”

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