Approximately one on five U.S. citizens, primarily adults, experience a mental illness in a given year, an aspect that makes leading a healthy lifestyle challenging; however, this number is expected to increase significantly due to COVID-19 infection that has forced humanity, especially American residents, to have constant fear for their lives. The continuous exposure to stress, to which the coronavirus infection has resulted, directly stimulates the secretion of hormones that prompt epigenetic alterations in genes related to increased risk of developing mental health illnesses, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia among others (Koenen et al., 2013). Consequently, COVID-19 can act a strong mechanism for the rise in metal health illness through the promotion of corresponding gene modifications.
Generally, viruses from the family of coronaviruses are not susceptible of changing the genetic sequence; yet, they can cause the alternation of the epigenome, an aspect that allows the disease to defeat the human immune response and spread the infection. The idea of epigenetics pertains to the study of both genetic and non-genetic factors that control heritable phenotypic variations. Essentially, genes, epigenome, as well as environment are all combined from the earliest stages of human life with the purpose of producing a specific phenotype of human health (Talarowska, 2020; Sawalha, 2020). Epigenetic modifications are responsible for certain patterns of gene expression, including that linked to mental disorders such as depression. Primarily, external and environmental impacts promote modifications, thus changing the activity and performance of human gene without altering the underlying DNA code (Schäfer & Baric, 2017). Epigenetic-induced alterations in the methylation of DNA are correlated with increased or decreased expression of particular genes in the human brain, mainly its prefrontal cortex and other brain region, and lead to the abnormalities in brain functionality or its structure (Lake, 2019). Subsequently, RNA type viruses, including COVID-19 that is widely spread nowadays, prompt the emergence of RNA modifications with m6A, m6Am, and 2′-O-me being found to contribute to the viral life cycle (Crowley, 2020). In other words, COVID-19 induces epigenetic alterations in genes related to the increased risk of developing mental health illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression.
Primarily, psychiatric diseases largely result from a combination of genetic vulnerabilities as well as environmental impacts. According to Guintivano and Kaminsky (2016), epigenetic modifications are responsible for mediating the impact of the external environment on the genome, while its epigenetic-induced alterations linked to mental disorders might lead to the development of related influences. The influence of these alternations combined with the present-day panic whereby people largely fear for their lives has contributed to the increase of the number of people suffering from mental health illnesses (Cûosiü et al., 2020; Lippi et al., 2020). With the account of the fact that the epigenetic-induced alterations brought by the coronavirus disease affect the gene base of humans who have suffered from this disease, the prevalence of illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, is likely to increase tremendously. Specifically, the COVID-19 emergency has forced people to be afraid of the dangerous infection, dying, as well as possibility of losing family members (United Nations, 2020). Subsequently, large numbers of people are losing their livelihoods, thus becoming socially isolated and separated from their family members, while stay-at-home orders, which increased domestic abuse and violence, further contributed to the perpetration of the issue.
All in all, COVID-19 would cause dramatic healthcare challenges by leading to the increase of the prevalence of mental health illnesses among the world population, including that of the United States. As a result, the coronavirus disease that has become pandemic largely acts an influential mechanism for the rise in metal health illness as it contributed to promotion of gene modifications.