It has been widely reported that during the pandemic due to socioeconomic and health inequalities different groups of people have had a disproportionate risk of mortality from Covid-19, especially for people from a Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic background and people with a learning disability and/or autism.

Although a new American study has found that people with schizophrenia are also overrepresented in the daily ticker of Covid-19 US mortality statistics, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers have found that schizophrenia and Covid-19 correlate to a threefold increase in the risk of death.

Led by researchers at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine, the study of 7,348 patient records revealed that schizophrenia is by far the most significant risk factor after the 75 or older demographic, and above other high-risk groups such as heart disease, and race.

Previous studies have also linked psychiatric conditions with an increased risk of dying with the virus. Therefore, the researcher expected people with schizophrenia to be at risk, but not too this extent. The authors of the study speculated that possibly the reason behind this abnormally high-risk is due to other underlying conditions such as heart disease and depression, and material circumstances such as barriers in accessing care.

They also suggested that there might be an unknown biological reason behind why people with schizophrenia are more predisposed to viral infections, with one explanation being that the genetics of the condition is additionally tied to immune system disturbances.

Are people with a mental health condition higher risk from Covid-19 in the UK? And why are people with schizophrenia at risk?

Responding to the publication of the study Professor James MacCabe, professor of epidemiology and therapeutics, at the Institute of Psychiatry Psychology and Neuroscience, Kings College London, said that British researchers should investigate the relationship between Covid-19 mortality and mental health conditions in the UK context:

“The increased death rate from COVID-19 in people with schizophrenia is a cause for concern. We know that people with severe mental illness have higher overall mortality and often face reduced access to healthcare... These disparities in access to healthcare may be especially severe in the USA.”

“The most closely comparable study is probably that conducted in South Korea, which found that people with depression were slightly more likely to die from Covid-19 than schizophrenia, suggesting that these findings may vary in different healthcare systems. It will, therefore be important to examine this effect in the UK and to address inequalities in access to healthcare in people with severe mental illness."

This view was also shared by Professor Matthew Hotopf, vice dean of research at the Institute of Psychiatry Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, who argued that while the data sample from this study is not huge, and there may be broader contextual factors such as obesity, socioeconomic status, and availability of assistance, this, however, does not rule out a biological predisposition.

He added: “In Covid we know that deprivation is associated with a much higher mortality, so we would therefore expect that people with severe mental illness will be particularly disadvantaged. In US healthcare system where this study was done, we might also anticipate significant differences in access to healthcare for people with schizophrenia.

“This indicates it is vital that people with schizophrenia are seen as high-risk group and have early access to vaccines.”