Study Suggests Mental Illness Is a Risk Factor for Breakthrough COVID-19 Infections

Study Suggests Mental Illness Is a Risk Factor for Breakthrough COVID-19 Infections

According to a new study, mental health problems may be contributing factors to breakthrough COVID-19 infections!

University of California researchers looked at data from 263,697 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs patients who had received all of their anti-COVID vaccines and had also done one or more COVID tests.

That being said, they were able to determine that a bit over 51 percent of them had received at least one psychiatric diagnosis in the last 5 years and that almost 15 percent of them experienced a breakthrough COVID-19 infection.

Furthermore, the risk of a breakthrough for those over the age of 65 was no less than 24 percent higher in the case of patients suffering from a substance abuse disorder, 23 percent for those suffering from psychotic disorders, 16 percent for bipolar, 14 percent for adjustment disorder and finally, 12 percent higher for those dealing with generalized anxiety.

In other words, the study suggests that those fully vaccinated and with a history of mental illness have a higher risk of breakthrough infections with COVID-19.

Aoife O’Donovan, the study’s senior author, explains that “Our research suggests increased breakthrough infections in people with psychiatric disorders can’t be entirely explained by socio-demographic factors or pre-existing conditions. It is possible immunity following vaccination wanes quicker or more strongly for those with psychiatric disorders and / or they can have less protection to any newer variants. Mental health is really important to consider in conjunction with other risk factors and some patients need to be prioritized for boosters and other preventive efforts.”

The researchers made sure to adjust the data to take into consideration other underlying conditions such as diabetes, obesity, sleep apnea, lung, cardiovascular, liver and kidney diseases as well as cancer and HIV.

The average age of the participants was 66 and 91 percent of them were male.

Kristen Nishimi, the study’s first author, mentions that the higher incidents in cases amongst seniors over 65 can be attributed to “decreased immunological response to  thevaccine that’s been associated with some psychiatric disorders, which might be more substantial in older adults.” 

She went on to add that such older patients dealing with psychiatric diagnoses may need more in-person care, which, “could increase their interactions with the health care system.” 


Katherine is just getting her start as a journalist. She attended a technical school while still in high school where she learned a variety of skills, from photography to nutrition. Her enthusiasm for both natural and human sciences is real so she particularly enjoys covering topics on medicine and the environment.

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