A team of researchers from Sheppard Pratt found that individuals with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other serious mental illnesses reported greater and more frequent mental distress and worries due to the COVID-19 pandemic when compared to a non-psychiatric comparison group.
This study, led by Faith Dickerson, PhD, MPH, director of psychology, research, and education at Sheppard Pratt, was recently published in the American Psychiatric Association journal, Psychiatric Services. The study found that persons with serious mental illness reported having more frequent emotional distress during the pandemic than did persons without a psychiatric disorder. Individuals with schizophrenia endorsed a higher degree of pandemic-related worries including feeling overwhelmed, having difficulty concentrating, and feeling worry about medical bills and having enough food because of COVID-19. Psychiatric participants did not report an increased incidence of suicidal thoughts compared to their report prior to the pandemic. The psychiatric groups also reported more recent missed medical visits and medications than did the non-psychiatric group.
“When compared to persons in the general population, those with mental disorders may have more limited resources, smaller social networks, and a higher utilization of health care and social services which may be disrupted by the pandemic,” says Dr. Dickerson. “Because of these risk factors, it has been assumed that persons with serious mental illness would be disproportionately affected by the pandemic. However, there have been few U.S. studies that have provided data about this issue. Through the study, we wanted to better understand the magnitude of their distress and characterize their experiences.”
To gather this data, Sheppard Pratt practitioners interviewed a total of 195 adults with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and a comparison group without a psychiatric disorder from July 2020 through January 2021. All of the individuals were previously enrolled in a cohort study. The interviews were focused on mental distress and suicidal thoughts, the impact of the pandemic and pandemic-related worries, tobacco and alcohol use, and access to care. The objective was to characterize the experiences of people with schizophrenia and other mental disorders during the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone and the experience of emotional distress during the pandemic is common. But for those with a serious mental illness, the extent and frequency of emotional distress was much greater than among those in the comparison group ,” explains Dr. Dickerson. “As a result, mental health providers ought to proactively address the emotional distress and worries associated with the pandemic that their patients may be feeling.”
About Sheppard Pratt
Sheppard Pratt is the largest private, nonprofit provider of mental health, substance use, developmental disability, special education, and social services in the country. A nationwide resource, Sheppard Pratt provides services across a comprehensive continuum of care, spanning both hospital- and community-based resources. Since its founding in 1853, Sheppard Pratt has been innovating the field through research, best practice implementation, and a focus on improving the quality of mental health care on a global level. Sheppard Pratt has been consistently ranked as a top national psychiatric hospital by U.S. News & World Report for more than 30 years.