As we enter the next phase of the reopening, the Brain Health Initiative proposes a crucial first step to fill an important clinical need and generate valuable data on the brain and mental health of patients with COVID-19: a widespread Call to Action including a statewide public health campaign, and implementation of a short self-report COVID-19 neurologic and mental health symptom screener.
Neurologic and mental health symptoms of COVID-19 infection are common, diverse, and often severe. Emerging research indicates that over one-half of individuals who test positive for the virus may experience one or more neurologic symptoms. In many cases these symptoms are their first signs of the infection. Scientists from around the world are working to understand what this means with regard to a patient’s short- and long-term health. What we know now is that these early neurological symptoms may indicate that the virus has either compromised the patient’s central nervous system, or resulted in an overreaction of the patient’s immune system. If the symptoms are noted at the time of testing for the virus, the course of treatment and potential outcome might be improved.
In addition to neurologic symptoms, the profound short- and long-term mental health effects of COVID-19 and the pandemic experience are of significant concern. We know that people who already have a mental health history are at higher risk for infection, and COVID-19 may lead to a worsening of pre-existing symptoms. Early evidence also suggests that patients with COVID-19 are vulnerable to symptoms that present as mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, sometimes in patients without previous history of mental illness. It is becoming clear that a COVID-19+ diagnosis, as well as population experience of COVID-19 in general, also leads to substantial widespread psycho-social distress and a significant and unprecedented surge in mental illness in the near future is anticipated. Given the critical bi-directional relationship between mental health and physical health, we are confident that mental health factors have the potential to shape recovery, at the individual and population level and contribute to morbidity and mortality associated with COVID-19.
BHI and its collaborators are working to raise awareness of the neurologic and mental health symptoms associated with COVID-19 and screen patients for symptoms before the virus takes its toll on individuals; that is when the information will have the most impact for patients, the community, and our health care system. In addition, these data can be included in medical records and linked with rich health information to allow for analyses of large data sets and an immense opportunity to increase health outcomes and for scientific discovery, in our backyard.