As we continue to press forward through COVID-19, we face many uncertainties about the future. However, one researcher believes that we can expect certain trends in the future based upon things that have happened in the past. In his article, “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Psychiatric Illness”, Murray B. Stein, a psychiatrist and professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, evaluates the effects of the disease on patients, clinicians, and the general public in order to predict future psychiatric illnesses that may arise.
For starters, Stein believes that many COVID-19 patients who recover after hospitalization will eventually develop anxiety or depression disorders, as well as posttraumatic stress disorder. Since there is currently limited research on the psychiatric effects of COVID-19 on patients, this theory is based upon research performed on patients hospitalized for SARS. Research conducted during that time showed that 20-40% of patients with acute infection showed neuropsychiatric symptoms such as:
- Insomnia (42%)
- Impaired attention or concentration (38%)
- Anxiety (36%)
- Memory impairment (34%)
- Depression (33%)
- Confusion (28%)
- Altered consciousness (21%)
Clinicians responsible for treating patients affected by COVID-19 are also at a higher risk for developing a range of psychiatric symptoms. According to studies cited by Stein and performed on hospital physicians and nurses in both China and Italy, around ¼-⅓ of clinicians reported mild psychiatric symptoms. Additionally, it was noted that moderate to severe psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety affected 12-20% of clinicians, depression affected 15-25% of clinicians, insomnia affected 8% of clinicians, and distress affected 35-49% of clinicians.
Stein noted the following risk factors for psychiatric illness in health care workers:
- Increased contact with affected patients
- Prior history of psychiatric illness or symptoms
- Spending a prolonged time in quarantine
- Perceived lack of organizational support
- Perceived social stigma directed toward healthcare workers
While the majority of psychiatric illness is believed to affect patients and healthcare workers directly affected by COVID-19, research also suggests that it can affect the general public as well. According to research cited by Stein, 7-14% of adults were found to be experiencing psychiatric symptoms from January 2020-April 2020, with April having the highest percentage. People who were found to suffer increased levels of distress included those who are low income, over the age of 50, are divorced or widowed, or who work as healthcare professionals. Additional research found that 20% of Chinese students from grade 2 through 6 who were quarantined for an average of 34 days reported anxiety and depressive symptoms. ⅔ of these students also reported feeling worried that they would become infected.
Overall, Stein’s article suggests that it is likely there will be a spike in psychiatric illness both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it is believed that COVID-19 patients and healthcare workers will be affected more severely, this is not to say that the general public cannot also experience varying degrees of psychiatric symptoms. Whether you are a recovered COVID-19 patient, a healthcare worker, or considered part of the general public, you owe it to yourself to seek treatment if you are experiencing psychiatric symptoms.
Dr. Miller is trained in Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She is also trained in Anesthesia and Pain Management. Because of her broad experience, Dr. Miller is uniquely qualified to treat psychological trauma, depression and anxiety that can occur as a result of injury or disability. For more information, schedule a consultation at NJ Family Psychiatry & Therapy.