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Chronically Ill People Need More Mental Health Support During COVID-19, According to Research

Living with a chronic illness or multiple chronic health conditions during COVID-19. Many members of the chronic illness community, especially those who are immunocompromised, are often told that they are at a higher risk of severe disease course by their doctors and the media. This can understandably take a toll on someone’s mental health.

A review of 178 studies from 17 countries looked at the mental health interventions, or lack thereof, that people with chronic health conditions received during the COVID-19 pandemic. The review was conducted by researchers across Canada and has been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The chronic health conditions reviewed included:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Respiratory conditions

The researchers, unfortunately, did not find that doctors promoted mental health support for individuals who are at a higher risk of experiencing the severe disease. People with chronic illness’s mental health was also exacerbated by increased social and economic instability and altered access to health and social care. The lack of mental health promotion is especially alarming, as due to fear of exposure and being more immunocompromised, people did not adhere as much to their treatment plans.

“The fear of contracting COVID-19 among those who knew they were more susceptible to infection and the associated mental health impacts interfered with adherence to treatment plans,” the researchers wrote. “Several promising practices were described but not formally evaluated.” The researchers also emphasized that mental health screenings should be included in care for people with chronic health conditions.

While the researchers noted that some studies used cognitive behavioral therapy in helping people with chronic health conditions cope during the COVID-19 pandemic, more evidence of which therapeutic interventions would be the most useful is crucial. “A better understanding of the shared etiology of mental and physical health will lead to more targeted and personalized approaches to care,” they wrote. “In addition, more knowledge about integrated health and social care implementation and outcomes are needed.”


Image via Getty Images/Ponomariova_Maria