It’s not just the lungs: passing the covid increases the risk of mental illness

Mercedes Bermejo, psychologist, look back at these two long years of pandemic, and says that he has a certainty. “The human being is not prepared to confine himself & rdquor ;, she explains. Since the coronavirus arrived until today, Bermejo has seen how patients have reproduced in his clinic, Psychologists Pozuelo, which treats some 1,000 people year. Last week, for example, there were more than 100 on the waiting list. Many of those who come to your consultation already came before covid-19; others have begun to receive assistance as a result of the pandemic, and within this group there is a subgroup: those who have passed the covid. These, continues Bermejo, have more risk than others to later suffer from mental illness.

“It’s not like the flu,” explains Bermejo. The covid has been associated with much fear, stress, uncertainty and tension, because it is a disease that kills, and there is a lot of chance in this. When it comes to you, as we have seen in the consultation, you get very scared, you fear for your loved ones, you experience enormous levels of stress, and in the end all this also affects your immune system, with which you are more likely to develop some type of Mental illness in the following months & rdquor ;.

The evidence of this psychologist is purely anecdotal: she tells what she has seen since March 2020. But there is a recent studypublished last week in the prestigious medical journal ‘BMJ’which helps to place the phenomenon in its fair dimension. It concludes that those who have passed the covid (almost 11 million people in Spain, according to official statistics) have many more possibilities of later suffering from a mental illness than those who do not. And that risk, reflects the work, was manifested “even among those whose symptoms of the disease were moderate and they did not have to be hospitalized & rdquor ;.

overwhelming figures

The researchers selected 154,000 citizens Americans who between March 2020 and January 2021 had suffered from covid. They then compared their medical data, a year after recovering from the disease, with those of 5.6 million people who had not been infected in the same period, as well as with those of another 5.8 million just before the disease. pandemic. To try to measure the mental impact of the coronavirus compared to another virus, they also added to the study the records of another 72,000 patients who suffered from the disease. flu in the two and a half years prior to the current health crisis.

The figures that emerged from all this effort are staggering. Those who had passed the covid had a 39% more chance of being diagnosed with depression and 35% more likely to suffer anxiety during the months immediately after contagion, a period in which the risk of suffering stress or sleep disturbances increased by 38% and 41%, respectively.

“The contagions have generated that all that fear, all that tension experienced by those who have suffered from covid, manifests itself after having overcome the symptoms, although the first reaction It could have been a relief –explains the psychologist Bermejo-. Human beings have a great capacity for survival, so we tend to contain the discomfort, but we externalize it once the danger has passed & rdquor ;.

There is more. The study reflects that the risk of developing cognitive problems such as confusion and forgetfulness it was 80% higher among those who had had covid, who also had a 20% greater chance of suffering from covid-related disorders substance use like booze.

The reasons for this spectacular increase in diagnoses of mental health illnesses, according to the authors of the study, have to do with both psychological and biological factors. On the one hand, the stress associated with a disease like covid, about which so little was known and which caused so many deaths at the start of the pandemic. On the other, the effects of the coronavirus beyond the lungs, a field on which there is still much to study. The brain autopsies carried out on those who died from covid show that the disease can cause inflammation and small blood clots in the brain.

The vaccine

The investigation leaves a open unknown. The vast majority of the cases studied were patients who suffered from covid before the vaccine, so it remains to be seen how this may have influenced the psychological sequelae caused by the disease, something that the authors have promised to study soon.

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Upon consultation, Bermejo has observed changes since the doses were extended to immunize the population. “The vaccine has brought with it certain tranquility, with many nuances, and that has also led to an improvement in mood. But it will take time. Traumas, after all, usually last two years & rdquor ;, explains the psychologist.

The research, in any case, defends the need to change the prism under which the coronovarius is analyzed. “It is not just a respiratory virus,” the authors point out. It’s a systemic virus capable of producing damage and clinical consequences in other organs, including mental health disorders & rdquor ;.

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