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People with Certain Mental Illnesses Are at a Higher Risk of COVID-19 Mortality

Researchers are starting to better understand what conditions put people at higher risk of dying from COVID-19. For example, a February study found that people with Down syndrome are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people with other conditions.

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in The Lancet Psychiatry on July 15, consisting of 33 studies for the review and 23 studies for the analysis, looked to see which mental illnesses put people more at risk for COVID-19 related deaths, hospitalization, and admission to the intensive care unit.

The researchers wrote that “the presence of any mental disorder was associated with an increased risk of COVID-19 mortality.” In particular, the following mental health conditions put people at higher risk of COVID-19 related death:

  • Psychotic disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Substance use disorders

People with anxiety disorders do not face a higher risk of dying from COVID-19. Unlike with reported deaths, people who live with mental illness did not have higher rates of COVID-19-related hospitalization or ICU admission. “Patients with severe mental illness (including psychotic and mood disorders) had a higher risk of death than patients with other mental disorders,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers believe that social and lifestyle factors, like social isolation and high alcohol and tobacco use, could be contributing to these findings, in addition to access issues. “The increased mortality of patients with psychiatric disorders—in particular, patients with psychotic disorders—observed in our study might also reflect reduced access to care, which has previously been described in relation to nearly every aspect of somatic health care in this population,” they wrote.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted people who live with mental illness access to care. Juliette V., a former editor at The Mighty, wrote about how COVID-19 can affect people who live with mental health conditions like schizophrenia:

In addition to medication and therapy, an integral part of symptom management for many people with schizophrenia can include “reality checking” with a treatment team to help separate what’s real from what’s not. Right now, patients with COVID-19-related delusions and hallucinations see people walk around in face masks, non-stop media coverage of the virus and worldwide levels of paranoia rise — making it that much harder to separate reality from delusion.

Image via Dumitru Ochievschi/Getty Images