London: People who tested positive for Covid-19 (confirmed by a PCR test) had an increased risk of mental illness, fatigue and sleep problems, finds a new study. Researchers from the University of Manchester analysed the electronic primary care health care records of 2,26,521 people from across the UK between February 2020 and December 2020.
The results, published in JAMA Network Open, showed that there was an almost six-fold increase in the likelihood of reporting fatigue to a GP following a positive PCR test. Further, a three-fold increase in the risk of sleep problems compared to those without a positive test, for people who haven’t previously visited their GP for any of these reasons in the past was also observed.
There was also an 83 per cent increase in mental illness following a positive PCR test. However, there was also a 71 per cent increase in the risk of mental illness for people who received a negative PCR test compared to the general population.
However, researchers believe this throws some doubt about whether Covid-19 is directly causing mental illness, because it is clear that those who get a test are more likely to have risk factors for mental illness, for example pandemic-related anxieties.
“While fatigue is clearly a consequence of Covid-19 the risk of experiencing sleep problems is also very high. However, we are sceptical regarding the extent that Covid-19 is directly causing people to become mentally ill, or whether those with a predisposition to mental illness are more likely to get tested,” said lead researcher Dr Matthias Pierce, from the varsity.
Other studies also showed similar results revealing elevated risks of mental illness, self-harm, fatigue, and disrupted sleep patterns among people testing positive for infection during the pandemic.
The researchers said that it is vital that general practitioners recognise the long-term impact of Covid-19 infection on their patient population. Offering follow-up to people who test positive for Covid-19 infection may help identify persisting symptoms.
“The increased risk of developing mental health problems in people who tested negative may be due to health anxiety in these patients, and primary care has a role in identifying and supporting such patients,” said Carolyn Chew-Graham, Professor of General Practice Research at Keele University in the UK.