As the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, crept closer to the United States, many Americans ignored the news or dismissed the virus as only the bad flu. When it began spreading in the community, people at high risk for health complications or poor outcomes from the virus took notice.
Most data suggest that the disease is most lethal among the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Early reports from Italy suggest that 99 percent of people who died of COVID-19 had pre-existing conditions. This indicates that statistics suggesting a 2 to 3 percent death rate may be misleading. Among young, healthy people, the mortality rate is likely lower, while people with pre-existing conditions may face a mortality rate as high as 10 percent.
If you’re at high risk for complications of COVID-19, it’s easy to feel anxious, overwhelmed, and powerless. Reassuring promises that it’s “only” the elderly and disabled who get sick may make you feel devalued and stigmatized. Here’s how to cope.
AM I HIGH-RISK?
Most people who get very sick from COVID-19 have at least one other medical condition. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that these conditions may increase a person’s risk: career and its goals
Being obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of over 40.
Being pregnant, though doctors continue to debate whether pregnancy increases the danger of COVID-19.
Having a chronic respiratory or lung condition, such as asthma, COPD, or lung cancer.
Living in a long-term care facility such as a nursing home, since the disease spreads more easily in close quarters.
People with serious heart conditions such as congestive heart failure.
People over the age of 65.
People with medical conditions that weaken the immune system, such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or cancer.
People taking immunosuppressant drugs. Transplant recipients and those with autoimmune disorders frequently take immunosuppressants.
Because health care workers have a higher level of exposure and may not have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), they may face a heightened risk of COVID-19.
DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION AND COVID-19
On social media and in the news, analysts and self-appointed experts frequently remind us all that COVID-19 almost always only targets the elderly and disabled. This represents a huge segment of the population, from children who have recovered from cancer to elder professors and politicians. People who belong to high-risk groups may feel devalued. COVID-19 may be intensifying the ableism and ageism many vulnerable people already face.
MENTAL HEALTH RISK AND COVID-19
COVID-19 doesn’t just affect physical health. Even among those who do not get the disease, the mental health consequences of the pandemic may prove catastrophic. A study of health care workers in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, found high rates of depression, insomnia, anxiety, and psychological distress. Witnessing people suffering can be a form of trauma, putting care providers such as health workers, first responders, and others at a high risk of mental health issues.
For people with pre-existing mental health issues, a family history of mental health diagnoses, or several other risk factors for mental health problems, the virus may erode emotional wellness. The pandemic presents several mental health risk factors, including:
Uncertainty in the face of danger
Scarcity and deprivation
Among those living with abusive people, increased exposure to violence and mistreatment
Intense time constraints, especially among parents with young children who must now work from home without child care
The pressure to homeschool children released from school
Anxiety about the virus as well as the unique home conditions it has left many families grappling with may cause a number of mental health maladies. So people at high risk of mental health struggles are also a high-risk population.
MANAGING THE MENTAL HEALTH IMPACT OF COVID-19
Living through a global pandemic is inherently stressful. The United States has never faced such widespread lockdown conditions, and no one knows what will happen. It’s normal and reasonable to feel anxious—not a sign of bad coping skills or weakness. People should not beat themselves up for their reasonable reactions to an unreasonable situation.