As COVID-19 cases near 70,000 in Kenya and 53 million cases worldwide, new data has now revealed that survivors of the deadly virus are prone to contract mental illness.
Conducted by The Lancet, a US-based peer-review medical journal, the study found that one in five people diagnosed with the coronavirus developed some form of mental illness some 90 days after getting sick. According to the study, a diagnosis of COVID-19 was associated with increased incidence of a first psychiatric diagnosis in the following 14 to 90 days in patients with no previous mental illness history.
“At 90 days, the estimated probability of having been newly diagnosed with a psychiatric illness after COVID-19 diagnosis was 5.8 percent. The proportional hazard assumption was valid for three of six control health events (influenza, other respiratory tract infection, and urolithiasis),” the study read in part.
The study indicates that the most frequent psychiatric diagnosis after COVID-19 diagnosis was anxiety disorder, with a probability of outcome within 90 days of 4.7 percent. Among anxiety disorders, adjustment disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and, to a lesser extent, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder were the most frequent.
As per the finding, the impact of COVID-19 on anxiety is in line with expectations and highlights the need for effective and accessible interventions. “Our data show increased diagnoses in all major anxiety disorder categories, and it remains unclear whether post-COVID-19 anxiety will have a particular post-traumatic stress disorder-like picture.”
The study also found that the incidence of a first diagnosis of dementia – a brain impairment disorder - in the 14 to 90 days after COVID-19 diagnosis was 1.6 percent in people older than 65 years.
It also found that COVID-19 patients were at a two to three times greater risk of the condition.
“The two to three times increased risk of dementia after COVID-19 infection extends findings from previous case series and is concerning. Some of the excess might reflect misdiagnosed cases of delirium, or transient cognitive impairments due to reversible cerebral events.”
“However, our exclusion of the first 14 days after COVID-19 diagnosis reduces this likelihood, and the incidence of dementia was not higher among inpatients (who are more prone to having delirium) than outpatients, further suggesting that delirium misdiagnosis does not explain this finding.”
This is not the first time that a link has been established between COVDI1-9 and a rise in mental illness.
In March this year, a global study published in the medical journal JAMA revealed that out of 1,257 healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients in China, more than half – 50.4 percent – had reported symptoms of depression, 44.6 percent had anxiety symptoms while 71.5 percent had reported some form of distress.
The researchers of the study have called upon immediate action, saying that their figures only provide minimum estimates of the excess in psychiatric morbidity to be anticipated in survivors of the virus.
“Our findings are of sufficient robustness and magnitude to have some immediate implications.”
The finding comes at a time when mental illness has risen in Kenya. Data by the Ministry of Health estimates that one in every 10 people in Kenya suffers from a common mental disorder. The number increases to one in every four people, among patients attending routine outpatient services.
Official data indicates that depression and anxiety disorders are the leading mental illnesses diagnosed in Kenya, followed by substance use disorders.