Antidepressant drug prescription and incidence of COVID-19 in mental health outpatients: a retrospective cohort study

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Background: Currently, the main pharmaceutical intervention for COVID-19 is vaccination. While antidepressant (AD) drugs have shown some efficacy in treatment of symptomatic COVID-19, their preventative potential remains largely unexplored. Analysis of association between prescription of ADs and COVID-19 incidence in the population would be beneficial for assessing the utility of ADs in COVID-19 prevention. Methods: Retrospective study of association between AD prescription and COVID-19 diagnosis was performed in a cohort of community-dwelling adult mental health outpatients during the 1st wave of COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. Clinical record interactive search (CRIS) was performed for mentions of ADs within 3 months preceding admission to inpatient care of the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) NHS Foundation Trust. Incidence of positive COVID-19 tests upon admission and during inpatient treatment was the primary outcome measure. Results: AD mention was associated with approximately 40% lower incidence of positive COVID-19 test results when adjusted for socioeconomic parameters and physical health. This association was also observed for prescription of ADs of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class. Conclusions: This preliminary study suggests that ADs, and SSRIs in particular, may be of benefit for preventing COVID-19 infection spread in the community. The key limitations of the study are its retrospective nature and the focus on a mental health patient cohort. A more definitive assessment of AD and SSRI preventative potential warrants prospective studies in the wider demographic.

Original languageEnglish
Article number209
JournalBMC Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2023


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