By Pallavi Mehra

METROPOLITAN CITY OF MILAN, Italy — Depressed patients who suffered from Covid-19 respond better to standard antidepressants than people who haven’t had Covid-19, reveals a pilot study.

The findings of the study were published in the journal “European Neuropsychopharmacology.”

Around 40 percent of Covid-19 sufferers report the development of depression within six months of infection.

The inflammation caused by Covid-19 is believed to be the main reason for the development of depression. Now new research has shown that around 90 percent of patients who have suffered from Covid-19 respond to SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), significantly more than would be expected.

“We know that Covid-19 has led to an epidemic of mental health problems,” said lead researcher Mario Mazza MD, San Raffaele University.

“Post-Covid-19 depression is a serious issue, with around 40 percent of Covid-19 patients developing depression within six months of infection. But this study indicates that patients who have had Covid-19 have a better chance of managing their depression than we thought.”

The researchers, from Professor Francesco Benedetti’s Laboratory of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychobiology at San Raffaele Hospital in Milano, treated 58 patients who had developed post-Covid-19 depression with such as sertraline, paroxetine, fluvoxamine, and citalopram.

Normally around a third of patients don’t respond to SSRIs, but the team found that 91 percent of those with post-Covid-19 depression responded to treatment within four weeks.

“This is a pilot study, but it does indicate that post-Covid-19 depression is treatable,” said Mazza.

“We would normally have expected around 40 of the 58 patients to have responded positively to treatment, but in fact, we found that 53 of the 58 responded.”

“Considering the anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties of SSRI, we hypothesized that post-Covid-19 depression triggered by infection and sustained by infection-related systemic inflammation could particularly benefit from antidepressant treatment.”

“We are now taking this work forward to a larger scale trial,” said Mazza.

“We also want to investigate whether SSRIs can also help with other post-Covid-19 symptoms, such as cognitive impairment and fatigue, and to look at the role of inflammation in post-Covid-19 depression.”

“This study is of particular importance to the large group of patients and clinicians who are currently dealing with long Covid-19 syndromes,” said Livia De Picker, MD PhD (University of Antwerp, Belgium).

“Long Covid-19 consists of a combination of persistent physical, psychological and neurocognitive symptoms after Covid-19 infection, which may present very different in different individuals.”

“Even if we still do not understand all the causes of long Covid-19, this study indicates post-Covid-19 depressive symptoms respond very well to serotonergic antidepressants,” said Picker.

“This does not come as a surprise to me, as recent studies have pointed out such compounds may also protect patients against severe Covid-19 illness, and several antidepressants are currently under study as Covid-19 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-19 complaints.”

“Most importantly, these findings stress the importance of adequate screening and treatment of mental health symptoms in patients who suffer from persistent health problems after having been exposed to Covid-19,” said Picker.

(With inputs from ANI)

Edited by Ojaswin Kathuria and Anindita Ghosh

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