The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has included certain mood disorders on its list of underlying conditions that can increase a person’s risk of becoming seriously ill if infected with COVID-19.
Depression spectrum disorders and schizophrenia are now among the health problems that are on the CDC’s list of factors that qualify a person for a booster dose of Pfizer vaccine. The change, which the agency told HuffPost on Thursday, means anyone 18 or older with any of these conditions is now eligible for a third injection six months after receiving the second.
Why mental health is a risk factor for severe COVID
For months, experts implored the CDC to include certain mental health disorders on its list of underlying conditions. In a September letter to CDC director Rochelle Walensky, which was shared with HuffPost, some of the country’s top mental health organizations called the exclusion “simply unacceptable.”
“Formally designating mental illnesses that have been confirmed by research to pose a single risk of death during the pandemic to be prioritized by the CDC is the only scientifically and morally defensible action to be taken,” said the group, which included Mental Health America and the American Psychiatric. Association.
The letter cited striking research that shows how closely certain mental health disorders can be linked to severe COVID findings.
One study found that schizophrenia was the second most common risk factor for death from COVID, for reasons researchers do not yet understand. (The biggest risk factor was old age.) It’s possible that there is something in the biology of schizophrenia that makes people more susceptible to COVID-19 – perhaps some kind of system disruption. immune, said researchers studying the connection. Researchers are also studying whether the drugs used to treat the disease may play a role.
Other studies have shown that people with mood disorders such as depression have a similar risk of hospitalization and death from COVID compared to those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes and diabetes. cancer – although, again, why this remains unclear. People with depression may have some kind of altered immune response, but they are also at greater risk for other physical health problems. Social determinants of health, such as poverty, could also play a role.
An important change that was long overdue
Mental health groups say the CDC’s decision to include certain mood disorders and schizophrenia on its list of underlying conditions is both welcome and overdue.
“Formally designating mental illnesses that have been confirmed by research to pose a single mortality risk during the pandemic for prioritization by the CDC is a scientific and moral imperative. This action has the potential to save many lives, ”Lisa Dailey, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, said in a statement to HuffPost.
“Mental health is health, and we commend the CDC for recognizing this and for following the research into this list of underlying conditions.”
– Schroeder Stribling, President and CEO of Mental Health America
Schools, employers, and state and local governments look to the CDC for advice on how to best protect themselves from people belonging to high-risk groups. The inclusion of this new group of people on the list therefore has important practical implications. It also ensures that people with certain mood disorders and schizophrenia can access booster shots if they choose, as their immunity wanes over time. (Boosters are currently only eligible for eligible Pfizer vaccine recipients, but the Food and Drug Administration voted in favor of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson boosters this week. The CDC is expected to make its recommendations shortly.)
“Now that certain mental health issues have been added to the CDC’s list of underlying issues, we recommend that people living with these issues speak with their healthcare providers to see if a booster is appropriate,” Schroeder Stribling , president and CEO of Mental Health America, said in a statement to HuffPost.
And while that doesn’t appear to be the CDC’s primary goal in updating its roster, the change also serves another important purpose: it clearly sends the message that – despite the stigma that continues to surround it – the mental health and physical health are not separate.
“Mental health is health, and we applaud the CDC for recognizing, and following research, into this list of underlying conditions,” said Stribling.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but directions may change as scientists find out more about the virus. Please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most recent recommendations.