Oklahomans with mood disorders like depression are at high risk for COVID-19, CDC says

More Oklahomans could be at high risk for COVID-19 than they realize.

Without much fanfare, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month added mood disorders — including depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia — to its list of conditions that could put someone at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, along with other conditions like diabetes, cancer and other chronic conditions.

That means many Oklahomans are eligible for booster doses, too. Adults with a high-risk condition, moods disorder included, who received Pfizer or Moderna vaccinations at least six months ago, qualify for a booster dose. Anyone who received Johnson & Johnson at least two months ago is also eligible, and proof of eligibility isn’t required.

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It’s well-known COVID-19 hits people with certain physical ailments especially hard, but there’s less awareness mental illness also can be a serious risk factor, said Dr. Jason Beaman, chair of the psychiatry and behavioral sciences department at Oklahoma State University's Center for Health Sciences.

“This is incredibly important,” he said. “I applaud the CDC for elevating mood disorders to that category of things we need to pay attention to. We know that people with mental illness have had the worst outcomes from COVID.”

A staggering percentage of Oklahomans reported in a recent survey that they had symptoms of a depressive disorder: 27.3% of people surveyed between Sept. 29 and Oct. 11 said they had symptoms in the last seven days, according to a U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey.

That’s more than 1 in 4 Oklahomans.

How mental health affects physical health

A CDC spokesperson said the update to include mental health issues among conditions that could put someone at higher risk for a severe case of COVID-19 was based on the recent publication of two scientific articles, both of which found “increased risk across a broad range of mental health disorders.”

The studies noted there could possibly be a higher risk of death from COVID-19 among people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression, the spokesperson, Jade Fulce, said in an email.

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But why would a mood disorder affect how well you can fight off COVID-19? Beaman, of OSU, said it’s two-pronged: a mood disorder can impair a person’s immunity and make it harder for their body to mount an inflammatory response against COVID-19.

A person with a mood disorder is also more likely to have other high-risk conditions, he said.

“When you have depression, you're more likely to not only have physical health problems like diabetes and weight gain, but to have more severe disease: your diabetes is uncontrolled, your weight gain is getting worse,” Beaman said. “All of those things coalesce around COVID. … It's just a really bad outcome."

This can be true in relation to other conditions, too, said Dr. Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association and a family physician in Stillwater. If, say, there were two 50-year-old twins, and both had heart attacks, “we know that the outcome of the twin that has depression, anxiety, some other mood disorder — their outcomes are going to be (worse)," she said.

Beaman said there may be also something specific about COVID-19 in the way it affects people with mood disorders. A new study found that an antidepressant, fluvoxamine, dramatically lowered the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

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Importance of vaccinations

There’s another important risk factor for COVID-19, said Dr. James Kirk, infectious disease specialist at SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital.

“For the past year, the strongest association that we've had with people who don't do well are unvaccinated,” Kirk said. “You can talk about high blood pressure, you can talk about obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental illness, all these things. But for me, the biggest risk factor of all for severe disease is to be unvaccinated.”

It’s critical for people with mental health issues to be vaccinated, he said. Even if it’s not clear what about COVID-19 can more severely affect people with mental illness, “what we should do is pretty clear, which is get people vaccinated,” Kirk said.

Beaman echoed that sentiment: if you have mental illness, then you are at higher risk and should be vaccinated, he said.

“Because of that higher risk, if you get the disease, you're going to be sicker. It's going to be harder for you to fight it off,” Beaman said. “And unfortunately, we're going to look at a higher risk of death, and we certainly don't want that for people just because they have a mental illness."

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Getting vaccinated

To find a vaccination appointment near you — either for a first, second or booster dose — visit vaccines.gov to search by ZIP Code. Appointments can also be found on the Oklahoma state vaccine scheduling portal, vaccinate.oklahoma.gov.

If you were initially vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, here’s who can now get a booster dose if it’s been six months since they completed their initial series:

  • People 65 and older

  • People 18 and older who live in long-term care settings

  • People 18 and older who have underlying medical conditions

  • People 18 and older who live or work in high-risk settings

If you got Johnson & Johnson initially, and it’s been at least two months since your shot, it’s recommended that you get a booster.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahomans with mood disorders are at high risk for COVID-19, CDC says