The Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health and Patients with Pre-existing Conditions
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve globally, its profound effects extend beyond physical health to impact mental wellbeing. Nowhere is this more apparent than among vulnerable groups such as individuals managing pre-existing mental health disorders. While stigma unfortunately persists, understanding how the pandemic exacerbates challenges for this population is crucial. This brief examines updated research on COVID-19’s mental health consequences and offers recommendations.
Patients face elevated infection risk due to factors impairing preventative behaviors and immunity. Isolation further endangers those with cognitive limitations (Holmes et al., 2020). Disruption of services also limits access to evaluations, therapy, and medications integral to treatment (Vahia et al., 2020). The pandemic additionally spawns new mental health issues – a meta-analysis found 35% of global populations reporting distress such as depression and anxiety attributable to COVID-19 (Xiong et al., 2020).
Fear of infection proved most detrimental for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders (Cullen et al., 2020). While virtual care partially addressed service gaps, digital divides risked excluding the most vulnerable (Saurman, 2020). The pandemic’s economic turmoil and social restrictions further jeopardized wellbeing (Pfefferbaum & North, 2020).
Moving forward, prioritizing vaccination of high-risk mental health patients can help mitigate disproportionate impacts. Telehealth expansion must consider access barriers. Policymakers should bolster community support networks and subsidize care costs during crises to uphold continuity of treatment. Reducing stigma around mental health also remains vital to encouraging those in need to seek help.
In conclusion, the pandemic exacerbates pre-existing vulnerabilities for those managing mental illness. A compassionate, multi-pronged public health response can help alleviate undue suffering for this at-risk population in the years ahead.
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Vahia, I. V., Jeste, D. V., & Reynolds, C. F. (2020). Older Adults and the Mental Health Effects of COVID-19. JAMA, 324(22), 2253–2254.
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