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Approved Research

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and the brain: longitudinal changes in mood/anxiety circuitry

Principal Investigator: Professor Jonathan Roiser
Approved Research ID: 72090
Approval date: May 18th 2021

Lay summary

There have been numerous calls to investigate how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has influenced mental health. A particular concern has been in regard to two already common mental disorders, depression and anxiety, and that the virus may directly affect brain structure and function in regions that drive symptoms of these disorders. Our group has conducted extensive research in this domain, focussing particularly on the brain and psychological mechanisms underlying these disorders. Specifically, our work has highlighted aspects of the brain which may drive symptoms, in particular over-engagement of regions in the brain which process threat. We will investigate how COVID-19 has affected both common mental health problems (anxiety and depression) and associated brain circuits by analysing data collected before and after infection with the virus in the UK Biobank Neuroimaging dataset. We will also study whether marked increases in symptoms of mental health problems are specifically associated with brain changes in these regions after infection.

Given concerns of how the current pandemic has affected mental health, we predict that a confirmed infection, as well as the anxiety evoked by the pandemic and social distancing interventions, may influence both the function and the structure of the brain in these regions. By identifying which functions of the brain appear altered, our results could help guide interventions designed to address concerns regarding mental health following COVID-19.