How Mental Illness Can Increase COVID Risk: Shots – Community News
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How Mental Illness Can Increase COVID Risk: Shots

Digitally generated image of multi-layered cut out male head with covid-19 cells in it on blue background.

Andriy Onufriyenko/Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images


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Andriy Onufriyenko/Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images


Digitally generated image of multi-layered cut out male head with covid-19 cells in it on blue background.

Andriy Onufriyenko/Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Even before the federal government’s recent decision last week to allow COVID boosters for all adults, it had recommended them as early as October for people with certain high-risk conditions. In addition to diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, that list also included mental illness.

The decision to prioritize people with psychiatric diagnoses in the early introduction of boosters came after a growing body of studies linking mental disorders to a higher risk of both COVID-19 infection and serious consequences.

Last year, researchers analyzed data from five hospitals in the Yale New Haven Health System to see how people with a psychiatric diagnosis who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 fared compared to others.

“What we found was that we had a higher death rate for those with a previous psychiatric history,” says psychiatrist Dr. Luming Li, who was working on her master’s degree at Yale University at the time.

The risk of death from COVID-19 increased by 50% for people with a history of mental illness compared to those without such a history, says Li, who is now the Chief Medical Officer of the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD in Texas .

Another study published last year looked at a nationwide database of electronic health records containing information about people who had tested positive for COVID-19 and those who had been hospitalized.

If a person had a history of a mental health disorder, they were more likely to become infected,” said study author Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “And if they got infected, they were more likely to get infected. To hit. negative consequences, such as hospitalization and death.”

There are several things going on that explain this, she says.

First, mental illness changes people’s behavior, making them less likely to protect themselves from infection with measures such as social distancing or wearing masks.

Second, people with mental illness generally have poorer overall health and many chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and kidney disease.

“It’s this very high prevalence of comorbid medical conditions that likely puts them at greater risk of adverse outcomes.” [from COVID-19]Volkow says.

It is well known that people with mental illness live on average shorter lives and die from health problems other than their psychiatric diagnosis.

“They suffer prematurely from chronic diseases, medical neglect,” says Dr. Ashwin Vasan, the president and CEO of Fountain House, a nonprofit mental health organization.

They are also among the most isolated in society, he says, and that isolation takes a huge toll on their bodies, putting them at greater risk for chronic disease.

“There have been study after study showing that it leads to inflammation, immunological stress, neurodegenerative decline, immunological disorder, endocrinological disorder,” Vasan says. It’s equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, he notes.

And many medications used to treat mental illness, especially antipsychotics, also increase the risk of these chronic health conditions, Volkow says.

“This has been one of the biggest challenges we have with the use of antipsychotics in general, which help manage certain symptoms in schizophrenia but are negatively associated with a much higher risk of diabetes and hypertension and metabolic disease,” she says. .

Certainly the risk is not the same for all psychiatric diagnoses. It is higher for people with severe mental illness, say mild depression. But as Vasan pointed out, mental illness is not something static.

“The severity of people’s mental illness and disability can ebb and flow depending on the amount of care and support they receive,” he says. “Whether or not you’re in crisis or have your chronic mental illness under control, we know on balance, at an epidemiological level of public health, that you’re at greater risk.”

There is also a clear overlap between serious mental illness and homelessness and substance abuse, which are also linked to a high risk of infection and severe COVID-19.

“About 40% of our chronically homeless population has severe mental illness and addiction,” Vasan says.

Most of the 13 million people with serious mental illness in the US are on Medicaid, he says, but 40% have no access to care at all.

“This is a systematically marginalized, sicker population that has less access to care and support,” he says.

For all these reasons, Vasan and other mental health experts were happy to see CDC prioritizing people with mental illness for COVID-19 vaccination, something they say should have happened much sooner.

But many people with mental illness, especially those with severe mental illness (people with significant disabilities in their daily functioning) may not be aware of their deductibles or the new recommendations, Li says.

It’s important for both health professionals and family members to also be aware of the risks of severe COVID-19 that people with a mental health diagnosis face, and to make sure they are vaccinated, Li says.

“It’s going to be a very important first step to make sure they have their vaccines to start with and then to get the boosters,” she says.

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