Age is the biggest contributing factor for a person to die of COVID-19, but researchers have now found that schizophrenia is the second biggest. It is “a serious mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally.”
The research was conducted by New York University Langone Medical Center and published in Jama Psychiatry. It focused on understanding the relationship between psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia spectrum disorder, mood disorder, and anxiety disorder with mortality in COVID-19 patients. The result found that COVID-19 patients diagnosed with schizophrenia spectrum disorder had 2.7 times higher risk of mortality than those without psychiatric disorders. Mood and anxiety disorders didn’t lead to increased risk of death.
“We know that people with severe mental illness have higher overall mortality and often face reduced access to healthcare,” James MacCabe, Professor of Epidemiology and Therapeutics at King’s College London, said. “They may be less likely to present to healthcare settings, and may be subject to healthcare rationing in some settings. These disparities in access to healthcare may be especially severe in the USA, where this study was conducted.”
According to MacCabe, the magnitude of the effect of schizophrenia in COVID-19 patients is comparable to that seen in physical health conditions including diabetes and neurological diseases “Crucially, this study did not take obesity into account which may account for some or even all of the effect.”
Researchers defined mortality as death or discharge to hospice within 45 days of a positive COVID test. They analyzed health records from 260 clinics and four hospitals in New York between March and May of last year. From the 7,348 patients who had tested positive, 75 patients had a history of schizophrenia, 564 had a history of mood disorder and 360 had a history of anxiety disorder.
From the 864 patients who died or were discharged to hospice care within 45 days, they found that those diagnosed with schizophrenia had 2.7 times more chance of dying than those without the mental health condition.
This means that apart from those in the most vulnerable age groups, people with schizophrenia should also be prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccines.
“In my opinion, this study has practical implications. These are a vulnerable group of people, and should be targeted for vaccines, in much the same way as other people at increased mortality risk from COVID-19,” Dr. Sameer Jauhar, Senior Research Fellow at King’s College London, said.
“Parity for people with severe mental illness has been a slogan for a number of years, and the findings from this study underline this.”