COVID-19 and severe mental illness

As one family member said “our loved ones have been suffering already. Now they are suffering even more.” Below are just a few examples of how this pandemic is affecting people with severe mental illness and their loved ones:

Panic 
People with underlying mental health conditions, including a severe mental illness, may be at increased risk of worsening symptoms due to the stress and panic of the current events. As one family member said to me, “my loved one is just now starting to have some progress towards recovery. I worry that she is at risk of severely decompensating and experiencing extreme paranoia if exposed to too much information about what is going on.” Recently one of our members had a loved one panic and called an ambulance.  Turns out there was no need for the ambulance.

Smoking
People with severe mental illness smoke tobacco at rates significantly higher than the general population. For example, research estimates that between 60% and 80% of people with schizophrenia are current smokers. Chronic tobacco use is known to cause respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Therefore, individuals with severe mental illness who smoke are a high-risk population for contracting COVID-19 and experiencing significant respiratory distress due to the virus.

With no home to ‘hunker down’ in
As a result of an inadequate mental illness treatment system and lack of community supports for people with severe mental illness, many have no home to ‘hunker down’ in for protection or to self-quarantine.