Researchers from the University of Nottingham School of Medicine, King’s College London and the University of Auckland in New Zealand concluded that COVID-19 infection and symptoms may be more common among those experiencing high psychological distress.
In their study published in the journal Annuals of Behavioral Medicine , the researchers point out, that stress, social support, and other psychological factors have previously been found to be “associated with greater susceptibility to viral diseases and more severe symptoms.”
Prof Trudie Chalder, Professor of Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy at King’s College London, said: “Previous work has shown a clear association between distress and the development of viral infections, which indicates a vulnerability.”
The researchers wanted to investigate whether the same was true for COVID-19 infection.
Effect of Psychological Distress on COVID-19 Infection Shown for the First Time
To examine the relationship between psychological factors and self-reported risk of COVID-19 infection and the number and severity of COVID-19-related symptoms, the researchers recruited participants through social media such as Facebook and Twitter and a mainstream media campaign. . They conducted a large prospective cohort study with 1,087 participants who completed the psychological well-being questionnaires in April 2020 and the self-reported incidence of COVID-19 infection and symptom experience across the pandemic through December 2020. 85% of respondents were female, the average age was 50 years old, and 42% were key workers.
To the best of their knowledge, the authors said, “This is the first study to show a small but significant impact of psychological distress on both the likelihood of reporting COVID-19 infection and the symptom experience.”
The Mental Health Aspects of the COVID-19 Pandemic Debate Are Spinning
The authors discuss how who caught COVID-19 and how, and how severe their symptoms were for those who got the infection, may be related to psychological distress, which they say has been “operated as a constellation” in their study. increased stress, anxiety and depression, and low levels of positive mood.” In turn, they question whether a person’s response to the COVID-19 vaccine, namely how effective the vaccine is, will also be affected by the person’s psychological well-being.
“The significance of the study lies in the fact that it turns the debate around mental health aspects of the pandemic upside down,” said Prof Kavita Vedhara of the University of Nottingham School of Medicine, who led the study. said.
He added that their findings show that “increased stress, anxiety, and depression are not only consequences of living with the pandemic, but may also be factors that increase our risk of getting SARS-CoV-2.”
In their study, the authors highlighted how their findings raise the question of whether high or low levels of anxiety about COVID-19 are associated with a greater risk of COVID-19 infection. However, they commented that more research is needed to unravel these findings.
Prof Trudie Chalder said: “Previous work showed a clear association between distress and the development of viral infections, indicating a vulnerability. Our study found that distress was associated with self-reported COVID-19 infection, and the next step is to investigate whether this relationship exists. It is found in those with a confirmed infection.”
“More work is needed to determine if and how public health policy will change to adapt to the fact that the most distressed people in our communities are at greatest risk of COVID-19 infection,” said Prof Vedhara.
Kieran Ayling, PhD, Ru Jia, MSc, Carol Coupland, PhD, Trudie Chalder, PhD, Adam Massey, PhD, Elizabeth Broadbent, PhD, Kavita Vedhara, PhD, Psychologically Predicted COVID-19 Outcomes Reported by People: Results from a Prospective Cohort Study, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2022; kaab106, https://doi.org/10.1093/abm/kaab106