While it’s not clear exactly why mood disorders make someone more susceptible to severe COVID-19, scientists believe there are multiple contributing factors.
“Possibilities do include some effect on the immune system, and the toll of the chronic stress placed on the body by psychiatric illness,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and host of the “How Can I Help?” podcast.
According to Dr. Kristin Francis, a child and adolescent inpatient psychiatrist with the Huntsman Mental Health Institute at the University of Utah, there are also a lot of health inequities seen in people with serious mental health issues.
Individuals with severe mood disorders often face barriers accessing healthcare and have difficulties affording medication that can improve their condition.
Many experience housing instability, lack financial security, are exposed to racial injustices, and experience food insecurity, which can ultimately diminish their immune response, says Francis.
The symptoms related to certain mental health disorders may diminish a person’s willingness to get vaccinated or lead them to engage in riskier behaviors that may increase their chances of being exposed to COVID-19.
COVID-19 is also known to trigger neurological problems, potentially through the inflammation that it can afflict within the brain.
“We’ve also seen studies show that COVID-19 patients experience increased depression, anxiety and even dementia within 3 months of their diagnosis,” Miller said.
Physical and mental health go hand in hand, and
“This inseparable relationship means we have to address the issues of our minds at the same time as our bodies. You cannot truly be physically healthy if you’re not mentally healthy and vice versa,” Miller said.
The addition of mental health disorders to the CDC’s list of high-risk conditions signifies that people with certain mood disorders are eligible to get a booster shot.
“People with significant major depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia should get a booster shot, 6 months or more after their last dose,” says Saltz.
Francis recommends that patients experiencing mental illness choose the booster shot they’re most comfortable with or whatever they are offered if they don’t have a preference.
According to Saltz, those with a severe mental illness should acknowledge they have a greater chance of experiencing severe outcomes from COVID-19 and wear a well-fitted mask in high-risk settings and avoid crowded public places when possible.
The CDC added mental health conditions, such as depression and schizophrenia, to its list of conditions that increase people’s risk of severe COVID-19. Scientists are still uncovering why people with mood disorders have a greater chance of being hospitalized with COVID-19, but suspect it has to do with the impact mental health has on the immune system along with the health inequities people with mood disorders often experience. The addition highlights the need for people with mental health conditions to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and schedule a booster at least 6 months later.