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Mental illness is an “underlying condition” that makes us at-risk during the pandemic

One of my main concerns in doing the research for my e-book, COVID-19 in Bipolar Country, was that none of the researchers were making reference to people living with mental illnesses as being at higher risk during the pandemic. You have no doubt heard the terms “pre-existing conditions” or “co-morbidities” or “underlying conditions”. This refers to things like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, cancer, etc. People with underlying conditions are at much higher risk for severe coronavirus infection, and for hospitalization, intensive care, even death.

All this is important for us to understand. But I’d like to add a twist: What about the millions of us living with or in recovery from pre-existing mental health conditions and addictions?

A coronavirus infection (like any other sickness) can very easily trigger a relapse. When the body falls ill, our energy levels and sleep schedule can get disrupted, and this shift can cause our precariously-balanced stability to tip over into an episode.

Actually, consider this: even just the fear of a COVID-19 infection could do that!

As I say in the e-book:

“In all my research to date, I have never seen a single article that mentions mental illness or addiction—or a history of either—as a pre-existing condition that puts people like me at severe risk: not of physical health consequences from the virus, but of mental health consequences. Yet, if any of us were to contract COVID-19, we could easily lose our mental stability or risk our recovery. That’s why I take extra-extra good care to protect myself against the virus during this pandemic.”

Let’s face it: people living with mental illnesses are generally so marginalized and invisible even at the best of times. How much more so will this be true at the worst of times, during a pandemic? To be clear: I don’t deny for one moment that COVID-19 is a global physical health crisis. I simply ask that due concern be shown to vulnerable and overlooked groups like us.

Just because the pandemic struck does not mean that our mental health needs have suddenly disappeared. Quite the contrary!

What strategies are you using—or will you use—to protect yourself from the coronavirus, so that the progress you’ve made towards recovery will not be put at risk?


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