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COVID patients with serious psychiatric record have double death risk: Israeli study

Large study, based on every living 18+ Israeli hospitalized for mental illness, gives stark picture of increased danger they face from the virus, even years after discharge

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative. A psychiatric hospital in France during the pandemic. (AP Photo/ Thibault Camus)
Illustrative. A psychiatric hospital in France during the pandemic. (AP Photo/ Thibault Camus)

Adults with a history of serious mental illness are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 compared to others who are infected with the virus, according to the world’s largest study on coronavirus and psychiatry, which was conducted in Israel.

The peer-reviewed research, just published in the journal, Molecular Psychology, was based on anonymized medical records of all 125,273 Israelis aged 18-plus who have been hospitalized for psychiatric illness.

Even years after hospitalization, they are at increased risk of serious outcomes from the coronavirus, the study indicates.

As well as being twice as likely to die if infected, they are twice as likely to be hospitalized.

“This report has significant public health implications, indicating that doctors should pay especially close attention to people with a history of psychiatric illness when they test positive,” Prof. Mark Weiser, director of the Psychiatric Division at Sheba Medical Center and the lead researcher of the study, told The Times of Israel.

No other country has a national study looking at COVID in relation to its entire population of people with a history of psychiatric illness.

Illustrative. A psychiatrist meeting with a patient during the pandemic. (iStock via Getty Images)

Weiser said that the results have relevance internationally, highlighting the need for authorities to develop strategies to reduce the virus’s impact on this group.

He believes that the increased risk is in part due to a set of lifestyle factors that often go hand-in-hand with a history of psychiatric illness, such as obesity, smoking, failure to keep health appointments, and lower engagement with exercise and other healthy lifestyle choices.

Mark Weiser MD, professor of Psychiatry, Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, and chief psychiatrist at Sheba Medical Center. (courtesy)

But specific COVID-related factors also play a part, he stressed. Vaccination among Israelis with a history of serious psychiatric illness is 25 percent lower than in the general population.

“Our findings suggest that there is value in special public health measures to reach out to vaccinate these patients, many of whom do not come in to get vaccinated of their own accord.”

Weiser and his colleagues wrote in the study: “Efforts must be made to reach-out to vaccinate individuals with a history of hospitalization for a psychiatric disorder, particularly older males with schizophrenia, who are both least likely to be vaccinated and are at highest risk for mortality.”

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