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In Frontiers in medicine

Background : Coronavirus Disease-19 (COVID-19) convalescents are at risk of developing a de novo mental health disorder or worsening of a pre-existing one. COVID-19 outpatients have been less well characterized than their hospitalized counterparts. The objectives of our study were to identify indicators for poor mental health following COVID-19 outpatient management and to identify high-risk individuals.

Methods : We conducted a binational online survey study with adult non-hospitalized COVID-19 convalescents (Austria/AT: n = 1,157, Italy/IT: n = 893). Primary endpoints were positive screening for depression and anxiety (Patient Health Questionnaire; PHQ-4) and self-perceived overall mental health (OMH) and quality of life (QoL) rated with 4 point Likert scales. Psychosocial stress was surveyed with a modified PHQ stress module. Associations of the mental health and QoL with socio-demographic, COVID-19 course, and recovery variables were assessed by multi-parameter Random Forest and Poisson modeling. Mental health risk subsets were defined by self-organizing maps (SOMs) and hierarchical clustering algorithms. The survey analyses are publicly available (https://im2-ibk.shinyapps.io/mental_health_dashboard/).

Results : Depression and/or anxiety before infection was reported by 4.6% (IT)/6% (AT) of participants. At a median of 79 days (AT)/96 days (IT) post-COVID-19 onset, 12.4% (AT)/19.3% (IT) of subjects were screened positive for anxiety and 17.3% (AT)/23.2% (IT) for depression. Over one-fifth of the respondents rated their OMH (AT: 21.8%, IT: 24.1%) or QoL (AT: 20.3%, IT: 25.9%) as fair or poor. Psychosocial stress, physical performance loss, high numbers of acute and sub-acute COVID-19 complaints, and the presence of acute and sub-acute neurocognitive symptoms (impaired concentration, confusion, and forgetfulness) were the strongest correlates of deteriorating mental health and poor QoL. In clustering analysis, these variables defined subsets with a particularly high propensity of post-COVID-19 mental health impairment and decreased QoL. Pre-existing depression or anxiety (DA) was associated with an increased symptom burden during acute COVID-19 and recovery.

Conclusion : Our study revealed a bidirectional relationship between COVID-19 symptoms and mental health. We put forward specific acute symptoms of the disease as "red flags" of mental health deterioration, which should prompt general practitioners to identify non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients who may benefit from early psychological and psychiatric intervention.

Clinical Trial Registration : [ClinicalTrials.gov], identifier [NCT04661462].

Hüfner Katharina, Tymoszuk Piotr, Ausserhofer Dietmar, Sahanic Sabina, Pizzini Alex, Rass Verena, Galffy Matyas, Böhm Anna, Kurz Katharina, Sonnweber Thomas, Tancevski Ivan, Kiechl Stefan, Huber Andreas, Plagg Barbara, Wiedermann Christian J, Bellmann-Weiler Rosa, Bachler Herbert, Weiss Günter, Piccoliori Giuliano, Helbok Raimund, Loeffler-Ragg Judith, Sperner-Unterweger Barbara

2022

COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, anxiety, depression, long COVID, machine learning, mental stress, neurocognitive