The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has amended its website to add mental health illnesses, including depression and schizophrenia, to its list of health conditions that make people of any age more likely to become severely ill from Covid-19.
The change, makes about 85 percent of the adult U.S. population eligible for booster shots, said Dr. Paul Offit, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) vaccine advisory panel. “The door just keeps getting wider and wider,” he said.
Preliminary research has shown an association between mental health disorders and hospitalization and severe sickness from Covid.
A study published in January in JAMA Psychiatry found that Covid patients with schizophrenia were nearly three times more likely to die from the virus, although people with mood and anxiety disorders were not at an increased risk of death from coronavirus infection.
Research published in The Lancet Psychiatry suggested that “a psychiatric diagnosis might be an independent risk factor” for contracting the virus. “Not only would it increase the risk of Covid,” said Maxime Taquet, the lead author of the study and a psychiatry researcher at Oxford University, “it would increase the severity of Covid once you have it.”
The CDC recommends boosters for people 18 or over with certain underlying health issues. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about one in five American adults experience some form of mental illness each year.
Chronic mental health conditions can exact a physical toll and “wreak havoc on the body’s immune system,” making people who suffer them more vulnerable to diseases like Covid, said Dr. Christine Crawford, an associate medical director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “They’re at increased risk, just because of the impact the stress response has on the body,” Dr. Crawford said.
Even before the pandemic, people with mental health conditions were generally at an increased risk of potential adverse health outcomes, said Dr. Arthur C. Evans Jr., the chief executive of the American Psychological Association.
“If you have a major mental illness, your life expectancy is 10 to 25 years less than people who don’t,” he said. “We need to think about and treat mental illnesses in the same way we treat physical illnesses.”