Depression and other mental health conditions have been added to the Center For Disease Control’s high-risk COVID list. This list contains certain medical conditions that could cause people of any age to become severely ill from COVID-19.

Severe illness from COVID-19 means that a person may be hospitalized and need intensive care. They could be put on a ventilator and could die from COVID-19. Older adults (65+) are still more likely to die from COVID-19. However, studies have shown that people from racial and ethnic minority groups are dying at higher rates and at younger ages. And, people with certain disabilities are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19. They are also more likely to become infected with COVID-19 and have worse outcomes than those without a disability. 

It has been proven that people with certain mental health conditions are prone to other types of health-related problems. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), “People with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population.” Plus, people with serious mental illness (SMI) are even more likely to develop health problems. “People with serious mental illness are nearly twice as likely to develop these conditions,” according to NAMI.

What Mental Health Conditions Were Added? 

“Having mood disorders, including depression, and schizophrenia spectrum disorders can make you more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19,” the CDC stated. However, the CDC does not list every mood disorder or mental health condition that would fall under the mental health umbrella.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, one in five adults and one in six children in America experience mental illness each year. And, according to the CDC, there are over 200 types of mental illnesses. Having a diagnosed mental illness or disorder is different than having poor mental health, according to the CDC.

Mental health conditions can occur for short periods of time or can be long-lasting. They can also vary in degree of severity and are typically considered mild, moderate, or severe.

Why Were These Conditions Added?

There is some data that suggests people with mental health conditions have a higher mortality rate from COVID-19 than those without. A research letter published in the JAMA Network Open stated that “patients with a prior psychiatric diagnosis, while hospitalized for COVID-19, had a higher mortality rate compared those without a psychiatric condition.” It is unclear why mortality rates are higher in those with mental health conditions.

However, according to a 2018 study, psychiatric disorders are associated with systemic inflammation. Inflammation may compromise the immune system and lead to an increased rate of mortality.

Another study published in 2021 found that a diagnosis of schizophrenia spectrum disorders was a risk factor for mortality in patients with COVID-19. According to the authors, “In comparison with other risk factors, a diagnosis of schizophrenia ranked behind only age in [the] strength of an association with mortality.”

Comorbidities Within Mental Health Conditions

Graphic of woman with mask hugging knees with viruses floating around her.

In an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, Dr. Luming Li, the chief medical officer at the Harris Center for Mental Health, and others gave more insight into the link between mortality and mental health diagnoses.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, stated in the interview that, “mental illnesses change people’s behaviors, which can make them less likely to protect themselves from an infection.”

They are more likely to suffer from obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, which also increases the risk for serious COVID-19. People with mental health diagnoses also tend to be more isolated. This can take a toll on the body and lead to “inflammation, immunologic stress, and neurodegenerative decline,” according to Dr. Ashwin Vasan, president, and CEO of Fountain House.

Lack of support and medical attention, homelessness, and substance abuse are also risk factors. There is an association between serious mental health diagnoses and substance abuse and homelessness. Vasan stated, “about 40% of our chronically homeless population has serious mental illness and addiction.”

Prioritizing booster shots for this population is important according to the panel. “This is a systematically marginalized, sicker population that has less access to care and support,” stated Vasan.

Eligibility For Booster Shots

So, that means that people diagnosed with a mental health condition are eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot. According to the CDC, if you received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine you should receive a booster if you are 65+, have an underlying condition, or live in a long-term care facility. You are also eligible if you work or live in a high-risk setting. You should receive the booster at least six months after your initial vaccination series.

Anyone over 18 who received the J&J vaccine series should receive a booster. The J&J vaccine has lower vaccine effectiveness than the other two available vaccines. Those who received the J&J can receive any COVID-19 vaccine authorized in the United States. You should receive a booster at least two months after your J&J shot.

Some states, including California, Maine, New Mexico, West Virginia, Arkansas, Colorado, and Kentucky have expanded booster shots to all fully-vaccinated adults.

The free vaccines and boosters are widely available at pharmacies, health departments, hospitals, and other sites.


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