Research Roundup

By Elizabeth Hancq

Research Roundup is a monthly public service of the Office of Research and Public Affairs. Each edition describes a striking new data point about severe mental illness and summarizes recently published research reports or developments. 

DATAPOINT of the month 

Unknown is the number of COVID-19 cases among people with mental illness living in congregate care settings, such as psychiatric hospitals or residential treatment facilities, an alarming data gap that is the subject of a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee letter to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma last month.  
The committee identified a lack of state-level data and reporting on coronavirus cases in congregate care settings creating a substantial gap in knowledge about the health and safety of these individuals. They are requesting CMS to issue guidance for mandatory, comprehensive data collection and reporting on COVID-19 cases in congregate care settings, writing “data collection within these facilities is critical to identifying these outbreaks in order to respond, save, and protect lives and urgently needs to be improved. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has the responsibility and authority to expand current reporting requirement regulations beyond nursing homes to include other Medicaid-funded institutions and take immediate action in response to serious health and safety findings…” 
RESEARCH of the month 

Risk of severe illness from COVID-19 among people with serious mental illness 

As we wrote in this blog in March when the coronavirus pandemic was first sweeping across the United States, people with serious mental illness may be more at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to their high prevalence of comorbid chronic medical conditions. Eight months later and now that we know more about COVID-19 and its impacts, researchers have confirmed this population has significantly increased risk of experiencing a severe illness from COVID-19.  
Published in Psychiatric Services earlier this month, the study authors analyzed data from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and found a higher prevalence of many of the chronic medical conditions that are associated with severe illness from COVID-19 infection. People with serious mental illness have a higher prevalence of these conditions compared to individuals without serious mental illness, including asthma (19%), bronchitis (11%), nicotine dependence (21%), obesity (46%), hypertension (24%), heart disease (13%) and diabetes (12%).  
Disparities in COVID-19 infection and hospitalization among people with schizophrenia 

Disparities exist between people with severe mental illness and the general population in a host of different areas, the COVID-19 pandemic not excluded. According to new research published by researchers from the FondaMental Academic Centers of Expertise for Schizophrenia in France earlier this month in Schizophrenia Bulletin, there are significant disparities in the health and health outcomes of people with schizophrenia and COVID-19 compared to people without severe mental illness. The study authors examined individuals who were hospitalized in France for COVID-19 between February and June and compared those with a schizophrenia diagnosis to those without a severe mental illness, examining intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and mortality rates. The authors found that elderly patients with schizophrenia had a higher risk of death than elderly individuals without severe mental illness. In addition, patients with schizophrenia who were younger than 55 years-old had more ICU admissions compared to those without severe mental illness. The authors conclude that health disparities exist among people with schizophrenia and point to the importance of addressing these disparities among this vulnerable population. 

Telehealth acceptable mode of service delivery among people with severe mental illness 

As we enter the holiday season and COVID-19 continues to spread across the United States, there is more and more pressure to reduce in-person interactions as much as possible to reduce the spread of the virus. Therefore, telehealth services will again become a preferred mode of mental health treatment service delivery for people with severe mental illness. But how do people with severe mental illness accept telehealth services?  

Telehealth is an acceptable and even preferred way to receive services for some people with serious mental illness, according to research published online earlier this month in Psychiatric Services. Individuals receiving mental health services at a New York City community behavioral health program were invited to participate in a survey regarding telehealth services. Of the 1,482 respondents with severe mental illness, more than 80% reported that their feeling of being connected to the community program staff and the support provided them was at least as great as before the pandemic. Of those respondents, more than 80% indicated that they would be interested in continuing telehealth services after the pandemic is over.  

Elizabeth Hancq is the director of research at the Treatment Advocacy Center.

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Research Weekly is a summary published as a public service of the Treatment Advocacy Center and does not necessarily reflect the findings or positions of the organization or its staff. Full access to research summarized may require a fee or paid subscription to the publications.  

The Treatment Advocacy Center does not solicit or accept funds from pharmaceutical companies.