Covid mental health symptoms ‘the norm rather than the exception’

Senior scientists call for psychiatric services to prepare for increase in referrals

The most common neurological and psychiatric symptoms were the loss of smell, weakness, fatigue and loss of taste. Getty Images  
The most common neurological and psychiatric symptoms were the loss of smell, weakness, fatigue and loss of taste. Getty Images  

Mental health symptoms could be the norm rather than the exception for Covid-19 sufferers, a study shows.

Those with a mild case of Covid may even be more likely to suffer neurological or psychiatric symptoms than those with a severe infection.

One of the researchers said it appeared that mental health and brain issues, from losing the sense of smell to depression, were likely.

The review of 215 Covid-19 studies, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry on Friday, found a wide range of ways in which coronavirus can affect mental health and the brain.

“We had expected that neurological and psychiatric symptoms would be more common in severe Covid-19 cases, but instead we found that some symptoms appeared to be more common in mild cases,” said lead author Dr Jonathan Rogers, from University College London.

“It appears that Covid-19 affecting mental health and the brain is the norm, rather than the exception.”

The most common neurological and psychiatric symptoms were the loss of smell, which was reported by 43 per cent of Covid-19 patients, weakness (40 per cent), fatigue (38 per cent) and loss of taste (37 per cent).

Patients reported muscle pain (25 per cent), depression (23 per cent), headaches (21 per cent) and anxiety (16 per cent).

Also identified was the presence of major neurological disorders such as ischaemic stroke in 1.9 per cent of cases, haemorrhagic stroke (0.4 per cent) and seizure (0.06 per cent).

“With millions of people infected globally, even the rarer symptoms could affect substantially more people than in usual times,” said joint senior author Dr Alasdair Rooney, from the University of Edinburgh.

“Mental health services and neurological rehabilitation services should be resourced for an increase in referrals.”

In patients with symptomatic, acute Covid-19 who were not admitted to hospital, neurological and psychiatric symptoms were still common: 55 per cent reported fatigue, 52 per cent a loss of smell, 47 per cent muscle pain and 45 per cent a loss of taste.

Because patients with severe Covid-19 were over-represented in the study, the researchers said it was possible such symptoms were just as common in mild infections as in serious cases.

The team reviewed evidence from 30 countries, involving 105,638 people with acute symptoms.

The study was led by researchers at UCL, the University of Edinburgh, King’s College London and Queen Mary University of London, with co-authors in the UK, Bulgaria, Canada, India and Germany.

Updated: June 4, 2021 04:54 PM

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