The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on mental health worldwide, with significant evidence of both short and long-term psychological symptoms associated with the illness. While previous studies have found a relationship between COVID-19 infection and a higher risk of psychological conditions after the disease, a new study from the Digital Deep Phenotyping Unit at the LIH is the first to analyse the role of mental disorders as a determinant of COVID-19 symptom trajectories. Their results show that mental health conditions prior to infection are a substantial risk factor.
The study, led by Dr Gloria Aguayo, analysed data from the already established Predi-COVID study, part of the greater CoVaLux initiative. Researchers followed 791 adults that tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus and found that regular psychotropic medication use before initial infection was associated with more severe symptoms, poorer prognosis overall, lack of recovery after 2 weeks of infection and therefore, a potentially increased risk of Long COVID.
The researchers further identified four possible trajectories of COVID-19 severity, with a score reflecting the total number of symptoms. They showed that people that regularly used psychotropic medication before being infected, in particular antidepressants and anxiolytics, had a higher score and worse trajectory, exhibiting poorer recovery during the first two weeks after the infection.
Our study shows that pre-existing psychological disorders increase the risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms and slower recovery. These results can help personalize COVID-19 care and highlight the importance of addressing mental health conditions in the context of the pandemic,concluded Dr Aguayo, leader of the study.
The paper was published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health on March 16th and can be accessed online here.