More than half of people with confirmed COVID-19 show symptoms of major depressive disorder as long as four months after their initial infection, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
Researchers looked at questionnaire responses from over 3,900 people with confirmed COVID-19 who were surveyed between May 2020 and January 2021, after recovering from the acute (initial or main) phase of the infection. Based on responses to questions about their mental health, 52.4% of participants met the criteria for major depressive disorder. Symptoms of depression were found to be more common in younger compared with older people, in men compared with women, and in those who reported that their COVID-19 was more severe overall.
As noted in a UPI article, the risk of depression was over five times as high in people who reported “very” severe COVID-19 compared with those who reported that their infection was “not at all” severe. The depression risk was over 2.5 times as high in those whose infection was “somewhat” severe, and about 1.5 times as high in those who reported that their infection was “not too” severe.
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Certain COVID-19 symptoms linked to risk of depression
The researchers found no significant connection between self-reported loss of taste or smell and the risk of depressive symptoms. But they did find that having an ongoing headache was linked to the risk of depression, with these people 33% more likely to report depressive symptoms. Overall, women were 28% less likely than men to have symptoms of depression, and with every decade of older age, participants were 24% less likely to have these symptoms.
Compared with survey participants who were white, other racial and ethnic groups were less likely to report symptoms of depression. The risk of these symptoms was 7% lower in both Black and Hispanic participants, 24% lower in Asian participants, and 34% lower in other racial or ethnic groups. Compared with residents of rural areas, whose who lived in suburban areas were 7% more likely to experience depression, and residents of urban areas were 10% more likely. However, these links to race or ethnicity and place of residence were not strong enough to be considered statistically significant.
It’s possible, the researchers noted, that at least some of the people who experienced depression in the wake of COVID-19 were already more susceptible to depression, and having the infection triggered this prior susceptibility. More research is needed to find out how COVID-19 might trigger depression in people with a history of mental health issues, and in people with no previous history of depression. But regardless of the exact causes of depression in the wake of COVID-19, they write, these results “suggest the importance of considering strategies that might mitigate the elevated risk of depressive symptoms following acute infection.”
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