Community mental health patients who were prescribed antidepressants were significantly less likely to test positive for COVID-19 when admitted to inpatient care, according to new research conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London.
The study, which was published in BMC Medicine, suggests that antidepressants, particularly the most frequently prescribed class of medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may serve as a preventative measure against COVID-19 infection and complement mass vaccination.
During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic (April to December 2020), researchers analyzed the clinical records of 5,664 patients admitted for mental health care at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust using the Clinical Record Interactive Search (CRIS), a platform that allows researchers to investigate patient records without accessing personal data.
Throughout their stay in the hospital, all newly admitted patients were required to have their COVID-19 levels checked. There were 5,664 patients, 202 of whom had positive tests. Patients who had recently had antidepressants mentioned on their medical record (90 days prior to admission) had positive COVID-19 test results about half as frequently as patients who had no such record. Further factual investigation uncovered that a new remedy of antidepressants. SSRIs were the only class of antidepressants that were found to be associated with a 40% reduction in the likelihood of a positive COVID-19 test.
The researchers were unable to guarantee that all patients whose clinical records included a mention of antidepressants were taking the medication at the time of the test due to the nature of SSRI treatment regimens and the methods used. They do, however, believe that the connection is strong enough to warrant additional research on a larger population.
Professor Robert Stewart, Professor of Psychiatric Epidemiology & Clinical Informatics at King’s IoPPN, and Deputy Theme lead for Informatics at the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre said, “For over 15 years, the CRIS platform has been supporting novel and innovative research, allowing health services to learn from patients’ anonymized records. The findings illustrate the huge potential value of this information, as this is the sort of question that could not have been feasibly investigated in any other way. Furthermore, networks like the HDRUK DATAMIND Hub are bringing together expertise, to ensure that the UK has international leadership in this sort of approach.”
Professor Dag Aarsland, Professor of Old Age Psychiatry, King’s College London, said: “This study provides further arguments that antidepressants have interesting effects beyond depression and anxiety. While the effects on COVID-19 are intriguing, we also plan to explore effects on other indications including brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease”.
The Lewy Body Society, the National Natural Science Fund of China, the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Maudsley BRC, the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) South London, and the DATAMIND UK Health Data Research Hub for Mental Health all contributed funds to this study.
The Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) of the National Institutes of Health and Care Research is where the CRIS platform was developed for use.
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