Turku researchers are investigating possible Covid and mental illness connections

Turku researchers are investigating possible Covid and mental illness connections

After the Spanish flu claimed the lives of an estimated 50 million people around the world just over a hundred years ago, the pandemic subsided in 1920. But soon after, mental health problems such as schizophrenia and depression increased significantly. survived the global epidemic.

Now, in the midst of another pandemic, some researchers want to know if Covid-19 could affect people’s mental health. One of the researchers is the research manager in neurobiology Eleanor Coffey, From Åbo Akademi University in Turku, Southwest Finland.

"It has long been known that there can be links between mental disorders and viral infections. When Covid began to spread around the world in the spring of 2020, we immediately became interested in how it could affect the human brain," he said.

More than 6,000 scientific articles on how Covid externally affects people’s mental health have already been published. The disease has caused mental trauma, PTSD, and social and economic problems that indirectly led to mental health problems.

In addition, the loneliness caused by the closures and quarantines associated with epidemics has reduced the quality of life for many. According to previous studies, the situation even caused mental health problems in some, including many young people.

What is Covid doing to the brain?

However, an international team of researchers is particularly interested in whether the virus that causes Covid has direct or indirect effects on the human brain. For example, can a virus lead to changes in the human blood that end up affecting the central nervous system – or vice versa?

"We already know that viral infection in pregnant women increases the risk of a child developing schizophrenia later in life, but we don’t know exactly how and why it happens. One hope is that this research will help us better understand what’s going on in the brain and create mental health problems," Coffey said.

The story continues after the picture.

Eleanor Coffey’s research project “Mitigating Mental Illness after the Effects of COVID-19 Infection” received € 200,000 in funding.

When the pandemic began, Coffey and the Turku Bioscience research group led by him immediately applied for and received funding from the state funding unit from the Academy of Finland to study the topic.

With the help of other researchers at Johns Hopkins University in the United States and the University of Ulm in Germany, the team began examining blood samples from Covid patients. They wanted to see – at the molecular level – what happens to the cells of patients with Covid-related neurological symptoms.

Too many samples

One problem the company encountered was too many patients to examine, according to Coffey, who explained that a large number of cases in the United States led to congested emergency services at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Johns Hopkins also works as a research hospital, and researchers initially wanted to take samples from patients as soon as they arrived at the facility. But health care staff often prioritized caring for patients rather than taking the time to take samples for research purposes, delaying the team’s efforts.

"We have seen interesting changes in the samples, but so far there are not enough or extensive long-term follow-up of the samples. We cannot draw conclusions until the study is complete," Coffey explained.

The study manager concluded that the best way to protect against possible mental illness during a pandemic is to avoid Covid infection and take the vaccine.

"Mental illness is more associated with a serious illness, while it seems less likely in people with only milder symptoms," he said.

The researchers hope to have their blood samples examined by the end of this year, after which they can present their preliminary findings.

Source: The Nordic Page

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