A recent Jama Network Open study examined the use of medicare benefits by people with mental illnesses. The results found that compared to 2019, in the first month of the pandemic outpatient visits and prescription refills of antipsychotics were reduced by about 20%, and ER visits and hospital admissions decreased by almost 30%. These numbers rebounded later in 2020, but still remained lower than rates in 2019, despite the transition to telemedicine. Disadvantaged groups, such as racial minorities, were particularly affected by the pandemic.
In my opinion, these findings are not simply the result of an underdeveloped health care system – they are the result of apathy towards people with mental illnesses. Hospitals were overwhelmed with patients with COVID-19, and so those deemed to be “lower priority” were pushed out. While treating those with COVID is important, it should not be used as an excuse to marginalize those with psychosis. Having a mental illness may be long-term compared with the acute short-term effects of COVID, but cutting off resources to these people by means of redirecting it towards COVID efforts is tantamount to ignoring COVID patients – severe mental illness is severe for a reason. Of course, what is needed is more attention towards healthcare, but also we need to change how we think about mental illness – as deserving constant attention.