A few months back, we blogged about a British study focusing on COVID-19 patients that had experienced psychosis. Now, psychiatrists on this side of the pond are taking a look at Americans who have beat COVID-19 but are just beginning to experience symptoms of psychosis.
Across the country, doctors are reporting that a small number of COVID patients who have never previously had mental health issues are beginning to experience hearing voices and developing psychotic symptoms. Even more interesting is that many of these patients are in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s – much older than most people who experience first-episode psychosis.
What’s thought to be to blame in these circumstances are lingering effects of the body’s immune system response as a person recovers from coronavirus. This overreaction can lead to vascular problems and surges of inflammation.
“Some of the neurotoxins that are reactions to immune activation can go to the brain, through the blood-brain barrier, and can induce this damage,” said Dr. Vilma Gabbay, a co-director of the Psychiatry Research Institute at Montefiore Einstein told The New York Times.
Many COVID survivors have described struggling with “brain fog”. Scans of these survivors’ brains have ruled out any kind of infection, but what is clear is that the immune system remains engaged to clear traces of the virus long after other physical symptoms have subsided.
Psychosis symptoms are also not new to viruses like COVID-19. According to the Times article, “Sporadic cases of post-infectious psychosis and mania have occurred with other viruses, including the 1918 flu and the coronaviruses SARS and MERS.”
As cases of the virus continue to climb, it’s one more affect that’s leaving doctors puzzled.
“We don’t know what the natural course of this is,” Dr. Hisam Goueli, a psychiatrist at South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, N.Y. said. “Does this eventually go away? Do people get better? How long does that normally take? And are you then more prone to have other psychiatric issues as a result? There are just so many unanswered questions.”