The following joint editorial was authored by State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs & Wendy D. Bailey, the Executive Director of Mississippi Department of Mental Health
Important new research reveals that schizophrenia is the second largest risk factor for death among people infected by COVID-19. Old age is the only factor that represents a greater danger to the lives of COVID-19 patients, according to the study results, which were published January 27 in the JAMA Psychiatry medical journal.
The evidence is clear: to fight the pandemic effectively, we must share information regarding the availability of and how to access COVID-19 vaccinations for all Mississippians with serious mental illnesses. This information is even more important to highlight during May as our state recognizes Mental Health Month.
The State of Mississippi has launched an urgent outreach program to make sure that our citizens with serious mental illnesses – and their caretakers and health care providers – understand the importance of the vaccine to their individual health and to that of all Mississippians.
People with serious mental illness may not seek medical attention for several reasons. As the JAMA Psychiatry study notes, because of their illness, these individuals could lack motivation, be socially isolated, experience stigma, or have problems accessing care. We fully agree with the authors’ suggestion that targeted interventions – specific strategies or activities – may prove extremely helpful for patients with severe mental illness.
The JAMA Psychiatry study followed 7,348 adults with confirmed COVID-19 in a large New York hospital system to determine whether a diagnosis of schizophrenia, mood disorder or anxiety disorder was associated with an increased risk of death. Researchers learned that mood and anxiety disorders do not bring an increased risk of death. However, people with schizophrenia who become infected with COVID-19 have 2.7 times the odds of dying after controlling for age, sex, race and known medical risk factors.
Research like this is considered groundbreaking for good reason. Identifying risk factors linked to poor outcomes, in this case with COVID-19, helps us make decisions about patient care, targeting protective measures and earmark resources, which often are meager. COVID-19 risk factors that have been identified in addition to old age and schizophrenia include gender, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, socioeconomic status and race.
Two recent articles from World Psychiatry provide compelling information about COVID-19’s impact among people with serious mental illness.
Last October, World Psychiatry published the results of a nationwide study that analyzed the electronic health records of 61 million adults to assess whether a recent diagnosis of serious mental illness affected the risk of becoming infected by COVID-19, being hospitalized with the virus and dying because of COVID-19.
Results indicated that patients with recently diagnosed mental illness had a significantly increased risk for COVID-19 infection, with the effect strongest among those with depression or schizophrenia. More than 27 percent of COVID-19 patients with a recent diagnosis of mental illness were hospitalized, compared to not quite 19 percent of patients without mental illness. COVID-19 patients with mental illness died at a rate almost twice as high (8.5 percent) as COVID-19 patients without mental illness (4.7 percent).
The October study reported that mental disorders affect roughly a quarter of the world’s adult population. The authors predict that, for several reasons, these numbers have grown during the pandemic.
A November World Psychiatry article points out that people with severe mental illness die at a rate two-to-three times higher than the general population, even without factoring in COVID-19. Furthermore, individuals with severe mental illness develop any number of chronic physical conditions, among them cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and respiratory tract disease.
LET’S ROLL UP OUR SLEEVES
One of the myths we hear about COVID-19 goes something like this: the pandemic will be over soon, because we have vaccines now. It’s not true, unfortunately. The vaccines are wonderful and represent our best hope, but it will be a long time before enough people are vaccinated to bring about a significant drop in cases.
The good news is that the numbers in Mississippi are encouraging. We’ve administered almost 1,800,000 doses of vaccine statewide. We are grateful that recent reports have shown no new cases or deaths in our long-term care facilities. Generally, deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are – at this point – trending downward.
We cannot relax.
We strongly encourage all Mississippians aged 16 and older to schedule vaccinations through one of the free Mississippi State Department of Health drive-through sites as well as through hospitals, pharmacies and clinics.
Most important today, we ask for your help in sharing the availability and importance of the COVID-19 vaccines with friends and family members who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia or other serious mental illness. Let them know that COVID-19 vaccines add another layer of protection. You can find more information about how to get your vaccine at www.healthyms.com/covidvaccinefinder. Also, let them know that it’s ok to talk about their mental health and seek help if needed. You can learn about services in your local communities by visiting www.mentalhealthms.com.
Let’s roll up our sleeves, Mississippi. It’s time. Let’s do what Mississippians do best and help encourage one another.
If you have been diagnosed with schizophrenia or another serious mental illness and need more information or help scheduling a vaccine, we encourage you to contact the Mississippi State Department of Health through its website, www.healthyms.com/covidvaccinefinder or call 1-877 978-6453. For more information about mental health services available in your community, visitwww.mentalhealthms.com or call the DMH Helpline at 1-877-210-8513.