Why mood disorders like depression increase the risk of severe COVID-19

  • People with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression are eligible for booster shots.
  • Having a mood disorder is linked to an increased risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19.
  • Experts have pushed to include mood disorders on the CDC’s list of conditions that put people at risk for severe COVID-19.

People who have been diagnosed with mood disorders such as schizophrenia,


bipolar disorder

, and major


depression

are now eligible for COVID-19 booster injections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The recommendation came weeks after the agency added mood disorders to its list of medical conditions that put people at increased risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 – a list that also includes obesity ,


Diabetes

, and pregnancy. Although mental health providers and researchers have long argued that mental health is as important to general well-being as physical health, medical and insurance systems do not always treat it as such – change was therefore not won in advance.

“I was really delighted that the CDC did this,” Dr. Roger McIntyre, chair of the science advisory board for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, told Insider.

McIntyre said he contacted the CDC after seeing that mood disorders were not included on the agency’s initial list of underlying conditions that increase the risk of severe COVID-19. He even sent psychiatric papers to support his position. McIntyre later learned that other psychiatric organizations had followed suit.

The change dramatically expands the pool of Americans eligible for COVID-19 booster injections. An estimated 19.4 million adults in the United States, or 7.8% of the population, had at least one major depressive episode in 2019, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Why people with mood disorders are at higher risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19

    COVID brain scanner

Medical staff member Gabriel Cervera Rodriguez examines MRI images at the COVID-19 intensive care unit at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, December 10, 2020.

Come on Nakamura / Getty Images


A meta-analysis co-authored by McIntyre and published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry last month found an association between pre-existing mood disorders and a higher risk of being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19. The research analyzed 21 studies and included more than 91 million people. However, he did not find a link between these mental health issues and being more physically likely to contract COVID-19 in the first place.

McIntyre explained that people with mood disorders are more likely to have physical health issues, such as


heart disease

, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or Crohn’s disease.

So people with mood disorders who also have a second diagnosis were already eligible for booster shots. But statistically, people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression are not being diagnosed for physical health issues at the same rate as the general population.

“If you walk into a clinic and tell the nurse or doctor, ‘I have schizophrenia, I have depression, I have bipolar disorder,’ they probably won’t diagnose the other medical problems.” McIntyre said, adding, “It’s just a bias we have in our medical system.”

In addition to a higher likelihood of physical health problems, behavioral and social factors associated with mood disorders also increase the risk of severe COVID-19. People with mood disorders smoke cigarettes and use substances at higher rates than the general population and have less access to prompt and reliable medical care, McIntyre said. They are also more likely to live in places of assembly, such as homeless shelters, community housing and prisons, which puts them at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and having consequences. more serious.

Even people with mood disorders who do not live in gathering places and are otherwise healthy are still at high risk. An article published in the journal Science last summer found a link between problems with the immune system and a variety of psychiatric disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

“People who suffer from mood disorders have some type of imbalance in their immune system,” McIntyre said, adding, “even if you lead a perfect life and have a mood disorder or of schizophrenia, this disorder of Mother Nature is going to put you at risk. “

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