When it comes to mortality risks from Covid-19, schizophrenia comes in second after age new research suggests. People who suffer from this neurological disorder are not only at greater risk for contracting the virus, but are also more likely to die from it.
“Old age is still the most important risk factor for dying of COVID-19, but in our study, schizophrenia surpassed even heart, lung and kidney disease,” said study author Dr. Donald Goff, director of the Institute for Psychiatric Research at NYU Langone in New York City.
“We believe that people with schizophrenia should be prioritized in terms of receiving COVID 19 vaccinations and encouraged to observe safety precautions,” said Goff.
Common symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations, delusions and disorganized thinking. Unlike other mental disorders, schizophrenia often appears in the late teens to early 30s. According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, people with schizophrenia die much earlier than people without it.
In the study, people with schizophrenia were nearly three times more likely to die from COVID-19, compared to individuals without the illness. And this remained true even after taking into account other factors that affect risk of dying from COVID.
“The higher risk was expected, but the magnitude was unexpected,” Goff said.
And the increased chance of dying is not tied to risks known to come with mental illness such as higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and smoking.
“There may be immune deficits associated with the illness that could be related to genetics,” Goff said.
Goff and colleagues reviewed medical records from almost 7,350 men and women treated for COVID-19 in New York last March, April and May. Of these, 14% were diagnosed with schizophrenia, mood disorders or anxiety, but only those with schizophrenia were more likely to die from COVID once infected.
“It’s reassuring that people with other mental health problems such as mood or anxiety disorders were not at increased risk of death from coronavirus infection,” Goff said.
Nevertheless, people with schizophrenia and their caregivers need to double down on efforts to prevent COVID-19, including wearing masks and practicing social distancing.