Patients with mental disorders more likely to die from COVID-19 - study

Mental disorders did not increase the risk of getting sick, however, nor the chances of experiencing a “severe” event from the virus.

A team of doctors discuss mental health (Illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
A team of doctors discuss mental health (Illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
People with mental disorders could be more likely to die from COVID-19, a new preliminary study published on medRxiv has found.
A team of researchers from South Korea performed a cohort study using information from the Korean COVID-19 patient database based on national health insurance data to evaluate the association between mental disorders and the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus and then experiencing severe outcomes or death.
Mental disorders did not increase the risk of getting sick or the chances of experiencing a “severe” event from the virus (being hospitalized in an intensive care unit, use of mechanical ventilation or developing acute respiratory distress syndrome). However, they found that once patients with mental disorders caught coronavirus, there was an increased likelihood of death. Moreover, the mortality risk was significantly higher in patients with mood disorders.
The team evaluated a total of 230,565 patients who had been tested for the novel virus and then 7,077 who had tested positive. Of those diagnosed with coronavirus, some 928 had a record of mental disorders within six months before their first coronavirus test and 26 of those patients died of the disease.
To examine the effect of mental disorders on the severity of COVID-19, the group calculated the percentage of patients who died and experienced severe events among patients who tested positive. They then analyzed the data obtained before and after, matching them according to the presence or absence of a mental disorder.
“It is crucial for government and clinical practitioners to identify vulnerable populations and establish specific strategies for prevention and treatment,” the researchers wrote in their paper. “So far, older age, obesity, smoking, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension have been found as risk factors for COVID-19. However, there is no epidemiological evidence on the effect of mental disorders despite the raised concerns on increased risk of COVID-19 among mentally ill patients.”
It is important to note that this is only a preliminary study, and the researchers acknowledge that there could be several reasons beyond the mental disorder diagnosis alone for why these patients could be more likely to succumb to their illness. These reasons include low cognitive ability that could make them less likely to take personal protective action, communication challenges, propensity to stress and potential discrimination of physicians against them.
Also, the researchers point out that mental illnesses are generally associated with unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as smoking and comsumption of alcohol, as well as low socioeconomic status, both of which would be tied to a worse prognosis.
Finally, some anti-psychotic medications are known to weaken the immune system.