People with mental illness reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has led them to feel greater feelings of isolation, less connected with others, and increasingly worried that their illnesses may worsen, according to a study in Psychiatric Services.
“People living with a mental illness not only have to deal with all the uncertainty related to the pandemic, but also with the possibility of disruption of the strategies each one has built to support [his or her] ongoing recovery,” wrote Mark Costa, M.D., M.P.H., of the Yale University School of Medicine and colleagues.
Costa and colleagues analyzed survey data collected by the online community ForLikeMinds, which is dedicated to promoting mental health recovery and wellness. ForLikeMinds has over 12,000 members and nearly 18,000 Facebook followers. The survey was distributed to its members and through its Facebook page. It asked participants if they self-identify as having a mental illness, what their diagnoses is, what their concerns are about the pandemic, how they are coping, and whether they feel socially connected. Participants were invited to complete the 11-question survey during the last week of March. Of the 214 people who took the survey, 193 self-identified as having a mental illness.
Almost all the respondents (98%) who identified as having a mental illness said they had at least one major concern regarding the pandemic, and 72% said they had at least three major concerns. These concerns were fears that their mental illness could worsen due to the COVID-19 pandemic (64%), they would run out of medication (38%), and/or be unable to receive mental health care (39%). Only 12% of the respondents thought they were coping well with the pandemic, and 23% said they were coping poorly.
Sixty-eight percent of respondents felt they were more isolated, and 57% felt they were less socially connected compared with before the pandemic. “Those who felt less connected were significantly more concerned about the worsening of their condition and running out of medication,” the authors wrote.
Respondents who self-identified as having an anxiety diagnosis presented more concerns: “They were the group, together with [those who have] posttraumatic stress disorder, that seems to be most affected by COVID-19,” the authors said.
Respondents who identified as having a mental illness said their preferred form of communication was text messaging, followed by the phone and social media. Those who said they were coping poorly with the pandemic were less likely to use their phones to communicate, the authors noted. “In reaching out to this population, providers should consider using text messaging and social media as preferred methods,” they wrote. “Specific measures/strategy could be developed to target this population and minimize the impact of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Psychiatric Services article can be cited as follows: Costa M, Pavlo A, Reis G, et al.: COVID-19 Concerns Among Persons With Mental Illness. DOI: 10.1176/appi.ps.202000245
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