Study Suggests COVID-19 May Cause Surge In Psychosis Diagnoses & Severity

PARKVILLE, Australia — Has anyone managed to be stress free in 2020? It was hard enough to stay calm before a global pandemic arrived on the scene, and now it’s downright impossible for tens of millions all over the world. All of that stress and anxiety, though, is bound to have far-reaching health consequences on the general population.

On that note, Australian researchers from Orygen, a youth mental health organization, and La Trobe University have concluded that the coronavirus will likely lead to more psychosis diagnoses in general, as well as more severe cases of the condition. So, those already vulnerable to psychosis may develop symptoms due to all of the stress associated with COVID-19, and similarly, patients already suffering from psychosis may see their condition worsen.

There is also evidence that a very small number of COVID-19 patients may develop psychotic symptoms (hearing voices) while fighting off their infection.

Additionally, the study’s authors warn that individuals dealing with psychosis represent a unique challenge regarding social distancing and infection control. Psychosis patients may not understand the necessity or reality of such measures.

“COVID-19 is a very stressful experience for everyone, particularly those with complex mental health needs,” explains co-lead author Dr. Ellie Brown, an Orygen research fellow, in a release. “We know that psychosis, and first episodes of psychosis, are commonly triggered by substantial psychosocial stresses. In the context of COVID-19, this could include stress relating to isolation and having to potentially remain within challenging family situations.”

For the study, researchers examined available published research on earlier viruses like SARS, MERS, and swine flu. More specifically, they looked to see how these viruses had impacted individuals suffering from psychosis. In summation, they concluded that any increase in psychosis rates or severity in the wake of COVID-19 would likely be associated with psychosocial stress, viral exposure, or pre-existing vulnerability.

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“People with psychosis are a population that are particularly vulnerable in the current COVID-19 pandemic and their needs are often overlooked,” Dr. Brown adds. “This research shows that their thoughts around contamination, and their understanding around concepts such as physical distancing may be different from the wider population.”

There’s also the possibility that COVID-19 could actually cause psychosis-like symptoms in a small percentage of coronavirus patients.

“Maintaining infection control procedures when people are psychotic is challenging,” co-lead author of the research, professor Richard Gray of La Trobe University, comments. “In order for them not to become potential transmitters of the virus, clinicians and service providers may benefit from specific infection control advice to mitigate any transmission risk.”

We’re all aware that depression and anxiety is at all time high right now, but the study’s authors warn that major psychological problems shouldn’t be forgotten about.

“This is a group that’s probably going to need more support, with isolation, physical distancing, hand washing etc, and clinicians may be the ones who need to be thinking and working on this to assist this vulnerable population,” he concludes.

The study is published in Schizophrenia Research.

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