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Schizophrenia Second Greatest Risk Factor for COVID-19 Death

Previous studies have linked psychiatric disorders in general to an increased risk of dying from the virus.

Investigators from the New York University Grossman School of Medicine have discovered that individuals with schizophrenia, a type of mental disorder that impacts moods and perceptions of reality, are nearly 3 times more likely to die from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) compared to those without the illness. Data from the study was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

While people with schizophrenia are at a higher risk for other diseases like heart disease and diabetes, the investigators behind the study said that they could not explain their findings by other factors that usually accompany mental health disorders.

"Our findings illustrate that people with schizophrenia are extremely vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19," Katlyn Nemani, lead author on the study and a research assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health said. "With this newfound understanding, health care providers can better prioritize vaccine distribution, testing, and medical care for this group.”

The investigators analyzed 7,348 patient records of both men and women who were treated for COVID-19 in NYU Langone hospitals during the height of the pandemic between March and May of 2020. Of the participants, they identified that 14% of them had a schizophrenia diagnosis, mood disorders or anxiety. They then calculated the rates of death within 45 days of when they tested positive for the virus.

The findings showed that schizophrenia is the largest risk factor of dying besides age, with a 2.7 times higher chance of death than those without the mental disorder. Investigators also showed that after schizophrenia, being male, having a heart disease and race followed next. Additional findings showed that people with mood or anxiety disorders were not at an increased risk of dying from COVID-19.

"Now that we have a better understanding of the disease, we can more deeply examine what, if any, immune system problems might contribute to the high death rates seen in these patients with schizophrenia," Donald Goff, senior author on the paper and the Marvin Stern Professor of Psychiatry at NYU Langone said.