CDC Adds Mental Illnesses to List of Underlying Medical Conditions Associated with Higher Risk for Severe COVID-19

OAKLAND, Calif., Oct. 15, 2021 – Top executives from 16 of the nation’s leading mental health advocacy organizations applaud the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for adding mood disorders, including depression, and schizophrenia spectrum disorders to its list of underlying medical conditions associated with higher risk for severe COVID-19.

Last Thursday’s updated guidance from the CDC reflects the lengthy body of research confirming the additional risk from these conditions. Research has found schizophrenia in particular is second only to age as the greatest risk factor for COVID-19 death.

Additionally, other research demonstrates that a very modest effort to encourage vaccination leads to consistently higher rates of vaccination for people with severe mental illness than that of the general population.
This new guidance by the CDC directing public health officials to prioritize those with mental health conditions identified as high risk for severe illness or death due to COVID‐19 will have a drastic impact on survival rates, with only modest public investment needed.

Communities across the country rely on the CDC underlying condition list to allocate scarce resources and today’s decision to include some mental illnesses will have an immediate positive effect. Many communities will use the list to target outreach, for eligibility to access booster shots, for services and housing, and other important benefits, and we encourage them to do so as quickly as possible.

“People with severe mental illness make up the second most vulnerable population susceptible to dying from COVID-19,” said Lisa Dailey, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. “Officially designating mental illnesses that have been confirmed by research to carry a unique mortality risk during the pandemic for prioritization by the CDC is a scientific and moral imperative. This action has the potential to save many lives.”

“As data from the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, we’ve kept a careful eye on those with the highest risks. Research has shown that that includes people with certain mental health conditions. The CDC has now validated what we have known for many months, and we must get the word out. The data is clear, the science is clear, and everyone living with a mental health condition should be aware,” said Schroeder Stribling, president and CEO of Mental Health America.

“Mental health and substance use disorders have been marginalized for too long,” said Benjamin Miller, PsyD, president, Well Being Trust. “The action of the CDC to properly name mental health disorders as a priority condition helps right a wrong and put mental health back in a place where it belongs – center and integrated with other facets of our health.”

“By recognizing that severe mental illness is an underlying medical condition connected to a higher risk for COVID-19, the CDC will save lives,” said American Psychiatric Association CEO and Medical Director Dr. Saul Levin. “As a health care system, we need to treat mental illness as we would any other illness, and this move will help many access care, services and other benefits quickly.”

“We’re glad to see this much-needed update to the CDC list,” said Anna Mendez, executive director of Partner for Mental Health. “Updating the list means that more of our clients will be able to access social services that have tied eligibility to having a condition on the list. It will also help protect our community members living with mental illness from COVID now that they know they should receive a vaccine booster.”

Organizations Represented:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
American Psychological Association
American Psychiatric Association
The Kennedy Forum
Massachusetts Association for Mental Health
Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute
Mental Health America
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Association for Behavioral Healthcare
National Council for Mental Wellbeing
One Mind
Partner for Mental Health
Peg’s Foundation
Steinberg Institute
Treatment Advocacy Center
Well Being Trust