During the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Berlin, a recent study has revealed a troubling trend: the emergence of new psychiatric disorders as a result of the pandemic’s indirect effects. While the physical consequences of the virus have been widely discussed, this study sheds light on the impact it is having on mental health.
Previous research has already indicated a significant decline in mental health since the start of the pandemic, with symptoms such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and acute stress becoming increasingly prevalent. Interestingly, there was a decrease in psychiatric emergency department visits during the early stages of the pandemic, likely due to fear of contracting the virus and overwhelming healthcare facilities. However, when individuals did seek help, their conditions often appeared to be more severe, suggesting a shift in the burden of psychiatric disorders from outpatient care to crisis intervention.
Understanding the development of new-onset psychiatric disorders is crucial, as they can have long-term effects on individuals, healthcare systems, and economies. While most studies have focused on post-COVID-19 psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety following a COVID-19 infection, this study examines the indirect consequences of the pandemic. Factors like fear of infection, social isolation, disruptions in daily routines, and financial insecurity have all contributed to the rise in new-onset psychiatric disorders. Similar increases have been reported in studies conducted in Italy, Germany, and Israel.
The study in question analyzed the incidence of new-onset psychiatric diagnoses and the contributing factors among patients presenting at a major psychiatric emergency department in Berlin during the second wave of the pandemic. The findings revealed a consistent number of cases compared to the control period, with a significant increase in new-onset substance use disorders, depressive disorders, schizophrenia spectrum and psychotic disorders, and anxiety disorders during the pandemic.
Each diagnostic subgroup was thoroughly examined. New-onset substance use disorders saw a significant increase, partially due to a rise in acute alcohol intoxication. Depressive disorders also experienced a notable rise, likely influenced by factors such as job loss, living alone, and financial insecurity. Schizophrenia spectrum and psychotic disorders also showed a significant increase, with more cases displaying signs of delusion. Although fewer patients with anxiety disorders presented overall, there was an increase in new-onset cases, likely due to the general fear and social anxiety surrounding the pandemic.
The study also highlighted an increase in patients being taken into police custody, suggesting delayed help-seeking behaviors potentially driven by fears of COVID-19 in healthcare settings. Surprisingly, there was no clear correlation between the number of new-onset psychiatric diagnoses and the incidence of COVID-19 cases, contradicting a previous study from Israel. This suggests that factors beyond COVID-19 incidence are contributing to the development of these disorders.
It is likely that the majority of new-onset psychiatric disorders are a result of the indirect effects of the pandemic, such as job loss, social isolation, and a decrease in familial relationships. This emphasizes the importance of addressing the mental health consequences alongside the physical consequences of the virus. Future pandemic control policies should take into account the unintended consequences of strict lockdown measures, job loss, social isolation, and changes in healthcare accessibility. Comprehensive care and support for mental health are crucial during these challenging times.