Pandemic COVID and mental illness article


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Price tells herself it wasn’t her husband who died by suicide on one of their farms the morning of Feb. 28. She believes he was taken over by what some health care professionals call “COVID psychosis.” The thought keeps the grief from swallowing her whole.

“It was shocking and devastating and so completely out of his character,” she said.

Neurological and psychiatric experts are seeing more reports of COVID-19 sufferers developing psychotic symptoms, even when they have no prior history of mental illness. While rare, the condition can be severe enough to require hospitalization.

Symptoms may include hallucinations, unusual agitation, restlessness preoccupation, paranoid beliefs, decreased need for sleep and impulsive behavior, said Dr. Jonathan Alpert, a professor of psychiatry, neuroscience and pediatrics at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

Alpert did not treat Ben Price, who was never officially diagnosed with a COVID-related neurological condition before his death. But he recognizes the signs, and urges people to seek immediate medical attention if they think someone is beginning to show symptoms of COVID psychosis.

“When people are psychotic, they aren’t in touch with reality and may do things that harm themselves and other things that are very dangerous,” he said. “It looks like COVID-19 has a somewhat higher risk of causing it than other viral infections that we’ve seen.”