Neuropsychological lens of COVID-19

Co-Written by Disha Malik,  Shubhangi Kandwal, Upasna Gaba and Dr. Swati Sapna

COVID-19 outbreak was notified as the Public Health Emergency of International Concern by WHO.  COVID-19 has spread to countries, territories, or areas around the world. Knowing the seriousness of the situation, all nations started taking steps towards the detection of the virus as well as preventing the spread of the infection (GÜNER et al., 2020). Human to human transmission can be realized mainly by droplets from coughing or sneezing or direct contact. Fever and cough are the main symptoms (Hagert & Williams,2020).  The major precautionary measures for the prevention of spread in the society are hand hygiene, social distancing and quarantine.

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the normal human life and has resulted in a more chaotic and isolated environment. The governments across the globe encouraged people to follow social distancing and self-isolation to combat the rising cases of infection. Though these steps are necessary for prevention, it is equally important to consider how it affects human life economically, socially, and mentally. The outbreak of COVID-19 infection has caused fear among people due to continuous media reports which tend to create panic by showcasing the evidence of possible fatal outcome (Onder et al., 2020). Social isolation and loneliness have previously been associated with anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide attempts across the lifespan (Elovainio et al., 2017, Matthews et al., 2019).  A study reported symptom exacerbation of a Severe and Persistent Somatic Symptom Disorder (SSD), triggered by the fear of having COVID-19.


Figure: Depicts how new norms are being incorporated in our lives due to current covid-19 pandemic and how these restrictions are impacting human lives both economically and mentally.

Neuropsychological lens 

COVID-19 can cause a serious impact on the mental health of human beings. Due to COVID-19 distorted social relationships and lack of human connection, it tends to threaten our mental health. Brain biotypes interacting with the lack of human connection can impact the mental health of a person. Human motivation and social connection are being impacted by this virus which can be explained with a brain-style perspective.

There are three biotypes of the brain – the rumination biotype, Anhedonia biotype and threat dysregulation biotype (Hagerty & Williams, 2020). Rumination is associated with depression, this style focuses on monotonous and indifferently focusing on the encounter of distress (Williams, 2017). People with this style are more susceptible due to COVID-19. They can experience an aggravation of rumination outcomes. Decreased social connection can cause a detrimental impact on mental health on people with a ruminative brain-style causing them to overthink, suffer from depression, worries about the future and internal concerns. People have also been observed to have a high vulnerability to high health-related anxiety (Sansom-Daly et al., 2016). In anhedonia, brain-style one cannot feel pleasure from activities which one has already experienced. This is caused by neurobiological substrates which involve under-engagement of the reward network of the brain which causes an individual’s (Sansom-Daly et al., 2016). Social anhedonia has been correlated with diminished social support and weakened functioning in the social realms (Blanchard et al., 2011).

Social distancing has exposed people to reduced human connection and that, in turn, has caused diminished motivation which during the pandemic has impacted the mental health of people (Dodell-Feder & Germine, 2018; Eisenberger, 2012). Threat dysregulation brain-style has a bias towards threat which is identified by hyperactivation of the amygdala (responsible for threat regulation) in the brain (Williams, 2017). People with threat dysregulation usually stay away from social connections (Pérez-Edgar et al., 2011).  As during the time of the pandemic people are afraid of the virus, it makes them vulnerable to threat and activating the threat dysregulation brain-style impacting their mental health (Hagerty & Williams, 2020). Stress is also responsible for the aggravation of threat dysregulation during this time (Mogg et al., 1990).

Elevated levels of anxiety and depression can be observed in people with threat bias and can cause a tremendous impact on mental health (Ruhe et al., 2019). This brain biotype can negatively influence a connection between mental health and social relationship due to social distancing during COVID-19 (Eisenberger, 2012). An understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on mental health from a personalized, brain-based view could lead to the expansion and implementation of maximally efficient intervention approaches (Hagerty & Williams, 2020).

A pandemic like COVID-19 can be considered as a world life event and depending on perception of its impact (Bedard-Thomas et al., 2018), even people not getting the SARS-CoV-2  infection may also be severely affected by it (Colizzi et al.,  2020). The COVID-19 pandemic has affected human life globally and its impact on mental health should not be fully ignored. Various studies and surveys have been focusing on the impact that COVID-19 has on mental health but there is a need to also consider the psychological, social, and neuroscientific aspects of this infectious disease. The socioeconomic factors have been associated with mental health in previous studies (Macintyre et al., 2017) indicating that there is a social gradient in mental health. However, the current pandemic situation seems to deviate from these studies, as there are findings which suggest that this pandemic has affected the mental health of people from both developed and developing nations.  


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Ms. Disha is a Neuroscientist with a Master of Science degree in Neuroscience from Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin, Ireland.

Ms. Shubhangi Kandwal is a Pharmacist with a Master of Science degree in Molecular Medicine from Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin, Ireland.

Ms. Upasna Gaba is a pharmacist and currently a postgraduate student pursuing Masters of Public Health (Health Policy) at Prasanna School of Public Health, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Manipal, India.

Dr. Swati Sapna is a dentist and currently a postgraduate student pursuing Masters of Public Health (Epidemiology) at Prasanna School of Public Health, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Manipal, India.



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