After recovering from the virus, a small number of COVID-19 patients are experiencing severe mental symptoms.
The New York Times reported that many doctors observed mental symptoms in recovered COVID-19 patients who had no previous history of mental illness.
The Times pointed out that studies in the United Kingdom and Spain found that a small number of hospitalized coronavirus patients developed “new-onset psychosis”, and similar rumors in the Midwest.
The Times did not talk to any patients with psychotic symptoms, but some doctors were allowed to describe their condition.
A 42-year-old mother in New York described constantly seeing her children being murdered and said she heard voices telling her to kill her children and herself. In New York City, a 30-year-old man tried to kill his cousin after he was convinced that they were planning to murder him. A 49-year-old man described what he heard and thought he was the devil.
The doctor Hisam Goueli, who treated the 42-year-old mother, told The Times that these cases are unique due to the patients̵
Goueli said: “People with mental illness have no insight. They lose touch with reality.”
Goueli also pointed out that it is unusual for most of these patients to be in their 30s and 40s. According to doctors, the symptoms described by patients are more attributable to schizophrenia in the young or dementia in the elderly.
Experts point out that the viral effects on the brain may be due to the immune system’s response or even physical symptoms experienced by the patient.
Vilma Gabbay, co-director of the Montefiore Einstein (PRIME) Institute of Psychiatry, said: “Some neurotoxins that respond to immune activation can enter the brain through the blood-brain barrier and can induce this damage.”
The expert who spoke to The Times agreed with Gabbe’s assessment, saying that the patient’s sustained immune response after recovery may affect the brain, although symptoms may depend on the affected brain area.
Robert Yolken, a professor of neurovirology at Johns Hopkins University, told the New York Times: “Some people have neurological symptoms, some have psychosis, and many have combined.”
The Times pointed out that similar cases have been observed in past viruses (such as the Spanish flu in 1918, SARS and MERS). Although the mechanism of these symptoms is not well understood, experts told the New York Times that research on these patients may help to better understand mental illness.
The duration of the patient’s psychotic symptoms is uncertain. According to The Times, one patient recovered within 40 days, while the other patient was reported to be still in hospital for more than two months and still suffer from mental illness.