Paolo Rossi Castelli 11 February 2021 5 min read

Covid – schizophrenia is a high-risk factor

According to a study by New York University, people with this disease are three times more likely to die from Covid than the average person and therefore require special protection.

In fact almost three times higher than average.People who suffer from schizophrenia, a mental disorder characterised by delusions, hallucinations and other forms of altered reality, have a much higher 
risk of dying of Covid-19. 

This is shown in a study conducted by the Grossman School of Medicine (New York University) and published in the scientific journal Jama Psychiatry.

The results of this research provide significant pointers, not only with regard to prevention and vaccination strategies for schizophrenia sufferers, but also from a perspective of the knowledge of the two diseases (Covid and schizophrenia) and the “intertwining” of the nervous and immune systems.

Experts have searched for possible risk factors related to mental illness since the beginning of the pandemic. Several studies (based, however, on small sample sizes) had linked psychiatric disorders in general to an increased vulnerability to Covid, but its relationship with schizophrenia has remained unclear. Psychiatrists and neurologists at the Grossman School of Medicine therefore decided to examine a very large number of patients, focusing not only on schizophrenia, but also on anxiety and mood disorders.

In particular, they analysed the medical records of 7348 men and women treated for Covid-19 at the “NYU Langone” hospitals in New York City and Long Island (between March 3 and May 31, 2020) and selected the 14% of them who suffered from schizophrenia (1% of the total), anxiety (4.9%) or mood disorders (7.7%). They then checked patient death rates within 45 days from diagnosis. They discovered that the risk of death for schizophrenics was 2.67 times higher than average, while the others showed no increased risk of death from the virus.

This puts schizophrenia, write the researchers, second only to age as the greatest risk factor for dying of Covid (being over 75 means that you are 35.7 times more likely to die of Covid than young people), which is far ahead of many other well-known risk factors, such as being male, obese or having other illnesses. Hence, schizophrenia is a unique case, which cannot be explained by the fact that sufferers on average die 15 years earlier than those without the disorder, consume more cigarettes and alcohol, and behave in a way that may lead them to isolation (and thus to a lack of access to timely treatment). The drugs taken to treat schizophrenia do not appear to be responsible either (although this needs to be investigated further).


The condition also has a genetic basis, which may play a role. In recent years, however, the theory regarding inflammation has also been put forward, according to which schizophrenia is the result of chronic inflammation of the brain caused by agents yet unknown. Since Covid profoundly upsets the balance of the immune system, causes inflammation and is also localised in the brain, researchers are trying to understand the reciprocal relationship between the two diseases. They are also calling for schizophrenics to be given maximum priority in vaccination schedules, as they are particularly vulnerable.


Paolo Rossi Castelli

Journalist since 1983, Paolo has been dealing with scientific divulgation for years, especially in the fields of medicine and biology. He is the creator of Sportello Cancro, the site created by on oncology in collaboration with the Umberto Veronesi Foundation. He collaborated with the pages of the Science of Corriere della Sera for several years. He is the founder and director of PRC-Comunicare la scienza.