Art By Nathan Huang
The COVID-19 virus can cross into the brain and cause a vast array of mental health issues, ranging from brain fog to severe anxiety, depression and psychosis. For a school that values the fruits of the mind, Pepperdine should protect staff and student health best through mandatory vaccination.
It is a mistake for Pepperdine to hold in-person classes before students and staff are fully vaccinated for COVID-19. This decision puts the mental and physical health of the University’s staff and students at risk.
Some people know COVID-19 can affect taste and smell, but most people have not considered how the virus may impact their mental health. Psychiatric and neurological changes can accompany the virus in some people.
Peripheral and central nervous system symptoms and inflammation can lead to pain, brain fog and sensory symptoms like hallucinations, numbness, tingling, tinnitus, headaches and other body sensations.
Sleep is also impacted by the virus. Some people report COVID-19 correlated insomnia and severe sleep disturbances, which negatively impact mental health and potentially cause someone to be more prone to anxiety, depression and psychosis.
The Lancet reports that 34% of the over 236,000 COVID-19 survivors studied were diagnosed with psychological or neurological conditions within six months of acquiring the virus infection. Anxiety and mood disorders were the most common findings.
An earlier 2021 study by Taquet, which also studied over 200,000 people, found that one in eight experienced the first episode of neurological or psychiatric illness within six months of testing positive for COVID-19.
For those with a history of previous psychiatric conditions, the rate of a new neurological psychiatric illness was one in three.
In many cases, the patients who developed these new mental health conditions did not have severe COVID-19 infections. Both diagnoses came as surprises to them.
According to The New York Times, alarming studies linked COVID-19 to first-episode psychiatric disorders in middle-aged individuals who had no obvious symptoms of COVID-19 but were suddenly struck with a mysterious psychosis illness. Despite having no history of psychiatric issues, these individuals arrived at hospitals experiencing hallucinatory symptoms resembling schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia usually involves hallucinations and delusions. People diagnosed with schizophrenia typically believe their hallucinations are real and the age of onset is generally in a person’s late teens or twenties. However, this new patient group was middle-aged, and the patients with COVID-19 associated psychosis all had the awareness their hallucinations were not real.
Psychiatrist Dr. Hisam Goueli reports on the case of a 42-year-old mother of four who suddenly developed visual hallucinations of her children gruesomely murdered. In reality, her children were alive and well. She had no psychiatric illnesses prior to her positive COVID-19 diagnosis.
Her psychiatric diagnosis does not fit neatly into established categories of psychosis and her hallucinations have not resolved. It is unknown how long these new psychiatric conditions will last.
Individuals need to pay attention to sensation changes and psychological symptoms like brain fog, insomnia and loss of smell and taste — all of which could be warning signs of the virus. For otherwise asymptomatic people, these sensory signals may be their only early symptoms, showing they have the virus initially, but research shows other psychiatric symptoms might appear later.
With several outbreaks in the Pepperdine dorms, Pepperdine students, staff and administrators should understand the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on their sensory system and mental health before deciding to come to campus without receiving the vaccine. For people planning to be on campus, vaccination is the safest choice.
Vaccination should be made easily available on campus. As a step in that direction, Pepperdine is hosting a vaccination clinic for students on Friday, April 23.
Providing vaccine access on-demand in the future would be a great way to extend the vaccination drive to all staff and students by making it convenient to get vaccinated on campus and providing no excuses for people to say they cannot get vaccinated.
A system should be in place to quickly identify sick students and staff. Students and staff who report sudden psychiatric or neurological symptoms should be taken seriously, quarantined, evaluated for COVID-19 and offered psychological counseling and medications to address their symptoms.
Pepperdine should be concerned about the protection of physical and mental health and should insist all on-campus staff and students be vaccinated for COVID-19. Also, quick identification and support should be provided to students and staff will are ill with the virus.
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