WALTHAM (CBS) – “I slept for almost two weeks straight.”
It was a symptom Hailey Cray expected when she contracted the coronavirus last December. “Going up the stairs here, he took it all. I stopped halfway up and had to breathe deeply, ”she told WBZ-TV.
She also expected a loss of smell and taste, which affected her. In fact, she still doesn’t fully recover it, which the 23-year-old says has been a major source of frustration for someone who enjoys cooking.
But what she didn’t expect was a significant, long-term worsening of her depression and anxiety.
“Just a deep sadness set in and I still can’t get rid of it,” she said. “Maybe three weeks after I got back to work and stuff like that, when I started to expect to feel better, and I didn’t. My body was fine, but my brain just wasn’t – still that tiredness, like I just wanted to stay in bed and not get out of bed all day.
And Hailey is convinced her Covid infection is at least partly to blame.
“There’s something neurological going on with Covid, or something psychological as well, that I think we don’t quite understand yet,” she said.
Mental health experts increasingly believe Hailey is on to something – that Covid could cause depression and anxiety, even in people who have never experienced it on a clinical level before.
“I’ve seen this in my outpatients,” said Dr. Stephanie Collier, psychiatrist at McLean Hospital in Belmont.
The researchers, she says, “looked at the cell cultures and they looked at the direct effects. It is believed that Covid directly infects the brain. And there could also be a second indirect effect, and that is the inflammation of the immune response.
This inflammation could be the key, according to researchers at the Simches Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. They are studying the effects Covid could have on certain brain cells.
“One of the things my lab is working on is the different types of brain cells that we grow from human stem cells,” says Dr. Roy Perlis, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and senior researcher at the MGH.
He and his team can then take these brain cells and test how the body’s immune response might alter them. Perlis believes that a so-called “cytokine storm” triggered by the coronavirus may alter some brain cells. They’re trying to figure out which ones – and how.
“Brain cells can respond to this inflammation and, as part of this immune response, either release other types of factors in the brain or change their function in ways that can lead people to more depression.” , he said.
Perlis says some studies suggest that more than 25% of people infected with Covid might experience these mood effects, and that men might be more sensitive than women. But, he warns that we are still in the early days of understanding the effects of Covid on our psychology.
The good news? Perlis believes that these effects are not permanent and can last from six months to a year in most patients.
“I’m incredibly optimistic about the long-term prognosis for most people. The brain is incredibly plastic and capable of healing itself. We are programmed to be resilient, ”he says.
As scientists work on these answers, Hailey has found some success in a combination of talk therapy, antidepressants, and a new friend, her dog Otto.
“He just makes me happy,” she said.