Publication date: Sep 04, 2023
The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown experience may have not only precipitated or exacerbated mental illness but also influenced access to care and the nature and content of the psychotic symptomatology of people with psychosis. This study aimed to evaluate the association of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown experience on clinical presentation and quality of life of people (QOL) with first episode psychosis (FEP). Two first episode psychosis cohorts from the same epidemiological area collected prior to, and during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown were compared in terms of clinical symptomatology, substance use and QOL. All adult in- and outpatients with FEP at five clinical units in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, aged between 18 and 45 years, were assessed with the MINI interview for psychosis, Positive and Negative Symptoms Scale, WHO Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test (ASSIST) and the WHO QOL scales. Eighty-eight FEP participants were recruited between 2019 and 2020 (cohort 1) before the pandemic. Study recruitment was suspended in March 2020 due to the pandemic. On study resumption from November 2020 to November 2022, 95 new participants (cohort 2) were recruited. There were no sociodemographic differences between the two cohorts, except unemployment status (57% vs. 65%) and household income. The cohort presenting post-COVID-19 pandemic onset had significantly more positive psychotic symptoms (21. 9 vs. 23. 7), lower PANSS domain depressive score, more lifetime use of tobacco, cannabis and alcohol. However, they reported improved QOL (196 vs. 239). Following the pandemic and lockdown experience participants presented with more severe psychotic symptoms and concomitant substance use but improved perceived QOL. This suggests the need to explore individual and social factors that may influence the clinical presentation.