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  • Writer's pictureTom Robinson

Severe mental illness prioritised in Covid 19 vaccine rollout

Updated: Jan 27, 2022

In contrast to the terrible news I mentioned yesterday and the difficult and distressing subjects that I often discuss on this site, today I have something a bit more positive and encouraging to inform you about.

Yesterday, my local doctor's surgery rang, to inform me that bipolar disorder sufferers have been prioritised in relation to the distribution effort of the Covid vaccine, and I am now booked in to receive my initial dose tomorrow!

It was announced by the British government yesterday that those with severe mental illnesses or learning difficulties are advised to shield with immediate effect and will receive their first vaccines imminently.

Questions will be asked over the huge delay in telegraphing the advice to shield and isolate, especially from those that have been directly affected by the virus, but personally I am just pleased that things are finally moving forward.

According to a medical paper in 'The Lancet', (a weekly medical journal) we're to include schizophrenia, bipolar, major depressive disorder (and any other mental illness which causes serious functional impairment), under the 'severe mental illness' umbrella.

This is the first time in twenty years that having bipolar disorder has ever come with any sort of benefit! I'm astounded that myself and my fellow BPD sufferers are being thought of and considered in this way, I really am!

But, and more seriously, I am so delighted that mental disorders are being given the same level of consideration as physical illnesses, in this current situation - it really does feel like progress, regarding the thought to, and respect of, those that suffer with mental illness.

So, I will be trekking to my assigned vaccination centre, along with the other one million, six hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine, mentally afflicted and challenged people, this very week.

After hearing the news that the government announced yesterday, I wanted to know more about why those with severe mental disorders are at heightened risk from complications derived from contracting the virus, and that's when I started reading the paper in the 'The Lancet' journal.

I don't particularly enjoy reading medical papers as they're normally written by philosophising professors with the IQ of Stephen Hawking, making them completely impossible to interpret, but this one is refreshingly straightforward and gives all the information that I was searching for.

I have to admit that whenever I read anything about bipolar disorder, especially when it's coming from the medics and scientists, I'm left in fear about the potential impact and consequences that my condition brings with it.

I really think there needs to be way more in the way of encouragement around the illness rather than the usual, 'this is a severe disorder that preempts poor functioning, is complicated and difficult to treat', these messages just leave us all defeated and demoralised. (Don't worry I'm going to help change this).

Having now read and translated the paper I am not quite as concerned and I don't think my fellow sufferers should be either.

The 'scary' statistics that they mention are as follows; those with severe mental illnesses have a death rate that's two to three times higher than the general population, are more likely to be obese and have cardiovascular and respiratory tract diseases as well as type 2 diabetes.

Just reading these facts is enough to make me feel ashamed of having bipolar disorder because now I'm assuming that people will think that those that contend with bipolar are lazy and obese which isn't true for so many of us.

The paper also acknowledges the fact that people with severe mental illnesses are two to three times more likely to smoke.

All of these problems I think I can explain.

When I was severely depressed and completely devoid of any energy, I would chain smoke cigarettes and guzzle coffee in a desperate attempt to get myself more 'up'.

When the illness was at it's most brutal (often), I would be completely bedbound for months, (in reality years) at a time. In contrast, when manic I would drink copious amounts of alcohol to bring me 'down' so that I could sleep and calm myself down.

This is the point - bipolar disorder is so difficult to contend with, that if you don't have the right education and insight into how to manage the condition, the temptation to self-medicate is going to be too great. People get desperate because their symptoms are so out of control and they'll literally do anything they can to try to rectify them.

Now that I am well, I don't need any of those unhelpful 'crutches' like caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol.

I want to exercise because I am well, I want to eat good foods and look after my body because I want to live - up until this point I honestly haven't cared less about living or dying; the illness completely robbed me of that basic human desire.

The Lancet paper goes into the effect that medications may have on the efficacy of the vaccine and other potential complications, like the question about how those with mental conditions may react differently in response to the vaccine, which does worry me slightly.

I am going ahead with the vaccination however, as I think it's essential that we all have it, regardless of the potential consequences and complications. We can't continue to live in a world where social interaction is forbidden because that isn't good for anyone's mental health!

If you would like to read the full research paper in The Lancet, I have added it here.

Thanks so much for the continued support and for the links that you are sending me for interesting mental health articles and stories.

When I first started writing daily about mental health I was worried that I wouldn't have enough to talk about but now I have a long list of news items and topics to discuss, so thank you!

As usual keep spreading the word and sharing these posts so that they can reach the people that so desperately need them.

Thanks for reading,

Speak to you soon,


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