British scientists studied the experiences of 9,000 COVID-19 patients who lost their sense of smell in a Facebook support group set up by the charity AbScent between March and September.
Many members said they had not only lost pleasure in eating, but also in socializing. The loss had weakened their bonds with other people, affecting intimate relationships and leaving them feeling isolated, even detached from reality.
One participant wrote, “I can no longer smell and experience the emotions of everyday basic living.”
Another said: “I feel…like I don’t exist. I can’t smell my house and feel at home. I can’t smell fresh air or grass when I go out. I can’t smell the rain.”
Loss of smell is a risk factor for anxiety and depression, so the implications deeply trouble mental health experts. Researchers have found that olfactory dysfunction often precedes social deficits in schizophrenia and social withdrawal even in healthy individuals.