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COVID-19 Symptoms May Raise Risk of General Psychiatric Disorders

July 28, 2020

People with current or past COVID-19 symptoms are more likely to develop general psychiatric disorders and experience loneliness, according to a study published online in Psychiatry Research. 

Researchers analyzed 15,530 respondents in the United Kingdom who participated in the first large-scale, nationally representative survey of COVID-19 in a developed country, which was conducted at the end of April. Although previous research has looked at particular psychiatric disorders associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia, this investigation focused on the broader psychological impact.

“Only focusing on specific disorders underestimates the psychiatric burdens of the pandemic in more subtle forms and overlooks the needs for psychiatric care of the people who have not been clinically diagnosed,” researchers wrote.

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The study used the 12-item General Health Questionnaire to gauge the prevalence and predictors of general psychiatric disorders among respondents. A question from the English Longitudinal Study on Aging was adapted to assess how often respondents felt lonely in the previous 4 weeks. 

Among respondents, 29.2% scored 4—the clinical referral threshold—or higher on a 5-point scale for general psychiatric disorders. Meanwhile, 35.96% reported sometimes or often feeling lonely.

Regression analyses found that respondents with current or past coronavirus symptoms were more likely to develop psychiatric disorders and feel lonely. 

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“People with current or past COVID-19 symptoms were perhaps more likely to develop general psychiatric disorders because they are more anxious about infection, and their greater loneliness may reflect the fact that they were isolated from family and friends,” said study coauthor Senhu Wang, PhD, of the Centre for Business Research at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School, United Kingdom.

Women and respondents ages 18 through 30 had higher risks of general psychiatric disorders and loneliness, according to the study. Conversely, having a job and living with a partner were identified as significant protective factors.

“Future research and public health policies need to move beyond specific psychiatric disorders to attend to the general psychiatric disorders and loneliness of a larger proportion of the population,” researchers concluded. “They need to pay special attention to vulnerable populations including women, the younger, the unemployed, those not living with a partner, and those who have or had COVID-19 symptoms.” 

—Jolynn Tumolo

References

Li LZ, Wang S. Prevalence and predictors of general psychiatric disorders and loneliness during COVID-19 in the United Kingdom. Psychiatry Research. 2020 June 30;[Epub ahead of print].

People with coronavirus symptoms more likely to have general psychiatric disorders and loneliness, says study co-authored at Cambridge Judge Business School [press release]. Cambridge, United Kingdom: University of Cambridge Judge Business School; July 13, 2020.

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