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Patients who develop depression as part of long Covid respond better to antidepressants than most

Patients who develop depression as part of long Covid respond better to antidepressants than most, study finds

  • Nine in 10 Covid survivors that develop depression benefit from antidepressants
  • Normally, only around 40 to 60 per cent of patients respond to the drugs
  • Inflammation caused by virus may cause post-Covid depression, experts said

Coronavirus survivors who develop depression respond much better to drugs than most people, a study has found.

Surveys suggest as many as 40 per cent of patients who catch the virus end up feeling down for months.

There were fears of a wave of depression as the pandemic rages on because an increasing number of people are being struck down with ‘long Covid’.

As few as four in 10 patients usually respond to antidepressants.

But scientists have discovered that nine in 10 Covid survivors left battling the blues after getting over the infection from taking the drugs.

The team of academics, based in Milan, expected a success rate of less than 70 per cent.

Lead author Dr Mario Mazza, a psychiatrist at San Raffaele University, said: ‘We know Covid has led to an epidemic of mental health problems. 

‘Post-Covid depression is a serious issue, with around 40 per cent of Covid patients developing depression within six months of infection. 

‘But this study indicates that patients who have had Covid have a better chance of managing their depression than we thought.’

Around four in 10 people who catch Covid report developing depression within six months of catching the virus, according to researchers at at San Raffaele University in Milan. But more than 90 per cent of sufferers benefit from antidepressants, ‘significantly more’ than the usual 40 to 60 per cent of patients that respond to the drugs

He added: ‘This is a pilot study, but it does indicate that post-Covid depression is treatable.’ 

Coronavirus has been linked to a myriad of symptoms in patients who end up beating the virus.

The most common are fatigue, headaches and breathing difficulties, but depression and anxiety are also recognised by the NHS as long-lasting effects.  

Depression rates are 70% higher than before Covid but have been dropping since lockdown was lifted in summer, official survey shows 

Rates of depression in Britain are starting to fall after shooting up during the Covid pandemic, official data shows.

The Office for National Statistics estimated that 10 per cent of adults in the UK were depressed before the virus first struck.

This more than doubled to a record 21 per cent last winter after two brutal waves of the epidemic and three lockdowns, with women and young people worst affected.

The ONS estimates that the proportion dropped to 17 per cent last month, based on its rolling survey of nearly 14,000 people across the country.

Lockdowns, social isolation, job cuts and fears about the pandemic have all been linked to higher rates of depression in other studies.

Most Covid curbs and social restrictions have been dropped around the UK since the summer despite some variation between countries.  

Inflammation caused by the virus seems to be the main trigger contributing to post-Covid depression, the experts said.

And the anti-inflammatory properties of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – a type of antidepressant – may directly target this swelling. 

Academics treated 58 patients who developed depression six months after catching the virus.

They were given sertraline, paroxetine, fluvoxamine, fluoxetine or citalopram.

Volunteers took a questionnaire about their symptoms before being given the drugs. They were asked the same questions four weeks later.

Some 53 of the 58 patients said their depression got much better after taking the drugs. 

Dr Mazza said: ‘We would normally have expected around 40 of the 58 patients to have responded positively to treatment.’

The results weren’t skewed by gender, the type of antidepressant taken or whether the patient had previously suffered from mental health problems. 

This suggests ‘a higher antidepressant response rate in post-Covid depression’, the experts wrote in the study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed.

Findings will be presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Conference in Lisbon.  

The team will now conduct a larger scale trial.

They also want to examine whether antidepressants can help with other post-Covid symptoms, such as cognitive impairment and tiredness. 

Dr Livia De Picker, a psychiatrist at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, who was not involved in the study, said: ‘Even if we still do not understand all the causes of long Covid, this study indicates post-Covid depressive symptoms respond very well to serotonergic antidepressants. 

‘This does not come as a surprise to me, as recent studies have pointed out such compounds may also protect patients against severe Covid illness and several antidepressants are currently under study as Covid treatment options.

‘I hope the current findings will prompt further research into the mechanisms through which antidepressants can help against both acute and long-term Covid complaints.’