First-wave COVID patients were more likely to have depressive symptoms

First-wave COVID patients were more likely to have depressive symptoms
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People who had COVID-19 in early 2020 were 1.67 times more likely to display depressive symptoms than those who were infected later on, according to the University of Leeds.  

A study led by Professor Daryl O’Connor and Dr Sarah Wilding of the School of Psychology at the University of Leeds surveyed over 3,000 adults in the UK. They found that clinically meaningful levels of anxiety were 1.67 times higher after 13 months in people who caught the virus in early 2020. 

Due to limited testing in the early period of the pandemic, the study relied on participants self-reporting COVID-19. However, the levels of reported infections were similar to two other key UK studies conducted over a similar period.   

People with mental health conditions were more likely to contract COVID-19

The researchers also found that having a pre-existing mental health condition and depressive symptoms before the pandemic was associated with an increased chance of contracting COVID-19. 

Lifestyle factors such as smoking, physical health vulnerabilities linked to poor mental health, and lower levels of adherence to government COVID-19 restrictions have all been cited as potential reasons for this association by the researchers.  

Previous studies have found increases in anxiety and depressive symptoms after patients likely contracted COVID-19, but only after six months. The University of Leeds study has suggested that the virus may have a longer-lasting mental health impact than previously thought.  

Treatment should be adapted for people with depressive symptoms

The researchers are calling for medical professionals to consider their findings when treating patients who have had COVID-19.  

“The findings highlight the importance for GPs and other healthcare professionals to be vigilant to these longer-lasting symptoms and to put in place treatments and support for mental health, as well as physical health, for patients who may have contracted COVID-19 infection,” said Professor O’Connor.  

The researchers also suggested long COVID may be a factor in their findings. The long-term symptoms of the condition, such as fatigue, sleep disturbance, headaches, brain fog, loss of taste and smell and breathlessness could contribute to anxiety, depressive symptom and poor overall mental well-being.  

They concluded that further investigation will be needed to identify the causes of the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on mental health.    

“The Mindstep Foundation are pleased to fund this research, which is an important first step towards an evidence base on the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health. Our hope is that this will inform better treatment and support for those affected moving forward,” said a spokesperson for the Mindstep Foundation 


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