Mental Health Problems On The Rise As COVID-19 Pandemic Continues

It has been almost two years since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global health emergency, and the world continues to grapple with its effects. Amid the continued fight to contain and extinguish the novel coronavirus, experts have observed a surge in mental health issues lately. 

Mental Health After Acute COVID

Research published Wednesday in the journal The BMJ showed that SARS-CoV-2 patients developed mental health problems while battling the virus. For the large study, the team from St. Louis used data from 153,848 people (COVID-19 group) recorded by the Veterans Health Administration. The researchers compared their information with a cohort of 5.6 million people with no evidence of infection from the virus (contemporary group) and a cohort of 5.8 million individuals predating the pandemic (historical group). 

All of the data used for the study were from people who had no mental health diagnoses or treatment for at least two years before their COVID-19 infection. The average age of the participants was 61, and about 91% of them were men. The COVID-19 group was also further split into two classifications: those admitted to the hospital during the acute phase of infection and those who were not.

After comparing all of the figures and analyzing the data, the researchers said that the COVID-19 group showed an increased risk of incident anxiety disorders, incident neurocognitive decline and sleep disorders. The group of patients admitted to the hospital during the acute phase of infection also recorded the highest incidence of mental health disorders.

To be specific, COVID-19 patients were 39% more likely to have depressive disorders, 35% more likely to experience anxiety disorders months after infection, 38% more likely to be diagnosed with stress and adjustment disorders and 41% more likely to suffer sleep disorders. Overall, the COVID group reported an 80% chance of developing neurocognitive issues, as per the New York Post.

Skyrocketing Mental Health Issues

In England, millions of people are reportedly struggling with mental health problems amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the cases are awaiting professional assistance and treatment since specialist mental health services have become so overwhelmed by the staggering cases of depression, anxiety, psychosis, and other mental disorders. 

Around 1.6 million patients are currently waiting for specialized treatment, while another 8 million are unable to get on the waiting list, the Guardian reported Monday, citing data from the NHS Confederation and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. 

Officials have been pressured into drawing up a recovery plan to address the situation. Health Secretary Sajid Javid has already acknowledged that the national levels of mental health issues in England have almost doubled since the pandemic started, and they are now in the process of creating a “comprehensive plan” to respond to the alarming concern. 

“We are moving towards a new phase of needing to ‘live with’ coronavirus but for a worrying number of people, the virus is leaving a growing legacy of poor mental health that services are not equipped to deal with adequately at present,” NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor said. 

Tackling The Worldwide Issue

The surge in mental health issues is not just happening in the U.S. and England. Other countries and regions have also reported an increase in cases. In 2021, a study published in The Lancet indicated that an additional 53.2 million cases of major depression and 76.2 million cases of anxiety were diagnosed worldwide due to the global health crisis. 

Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, the chief of research and development for the VA St. Louis Health Care System who was one of the authors of The BMJ-published study, said that the numbers they presented in their report should give an idea of the severity of the situation and the urgency to address it. 

“We need to get them the treatments they need so this does not degenerate into a much larger crisis. Just because of the enormity of COVID in the U.S., the numbers here represent really millions of people,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Al-Aly, who also works as a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University, encouraged everyone to take care of their well-being by exercising, connecting with loved ones and reducing stress. He added that it’s best to “seek help and talk to your doctor about your symptoms.”

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