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Hosted by Editor in Chief Lorenzo Norris, MD, Psychcast features mental health care professionals discussing the issues that most affect psychiatry.

Mar 3, 2021

Frank Chen, MD, joins host Lorenzo Norris, MD, to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on patients with schizophrenia.

Dr. Chen is the chief medical director for Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital and Houston Adult Psychiatry. He is a speaker for Alkermes and Otsuka. Dr. Chen has served on advisory boards for Alkermes, Intracellular Therapies, Otsuka, and Teva Pharmaceuticals.

Dr. Norris is associate dean of student affairs and administration at George Washington University. He has no disclosures.

Take-home points

  • Schizophrenia is associated with an increased risk of death from COVID-19, even when controlling for other medical comorbidities.
  • Individuals with schizophrenia have many biological and situational risk factors for COVID-19, including an elevated risk of metabolic syndrome from antipsychotic medications, higher rates of nicotine addiction, a greater likelihood of living in a group setting, limited access to medical care, and the underlying inflammatory state of schizophrenia.


  • An article published in JAMA Psychiatry in January 2021 evaluated a large cohort of patients in a New York health system and identified schizophrenia as the second most highly associated risk factor for 45-day mortality from COVID-19, after the risk factor of advanced age.
  • The study controlled for other medical comorbidities to avoid confounding the results. However, it is essential to remember that individuals with schizophrenia have environmental and biological factors that increase their risk of infection and complications from COVID-19, such as metabolic syndrome, cigarette smoking, limited access to health care, and living in a group or institutional setting.
  • Dr. Chen points out that many patients with schizophrenia already have skills to adapt to the stresses of the pandemic. For example, individuals with schizophrenia might already be accustomed to living with a certain level of fear and uncertainty inherent to their thought disorder. He also comments that negative symptoms make social distancing easier for individuals with schizophrenia than for other people.
  • Dr. Chen notes that telepsychiatry has been a boon to treating individuals with schizophrenia, because using this tool is almost like making a “home visit.” Telemedicine removes the barriers to care, such as transport and resistance to coming to the office.
  • Adaptation to telepsychiatry has varied among different patient populations. Dr. Chen says some of his “higher functioning” patients with more controlled and stable lives did not want to see their clinician via video. They preferred the “secure” and more private setting of an office.
  • Ultimately, psychological flexibility and ability to adapt influence the amount of stress people experience during crisis.


Nemani K et al. JAMA Psychiatry. 2021 Jan 27. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry. 2020.4442.

Mazereel V et al. Lancet. 2021 Feb 3. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(2)30564-2.

Muruganandam P et al. Psychiatry Res. 2020 Jun 29. doi: 101016/j.psychres.2020.113265.

Kozloff N et al. Schizophr Bull. 2020 Jul;46(4):752-7.

Smith BM et al. J Contextual Behav Sci. 2020 Oct;18:162-74.

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Show notes by Jacqueline Posada, MD, associate producer of the Psychcast; assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University, Washington; and staff physician at George Washington Medical Faculty Associates, also in Washington. Dr. Posada has no conflicts of interest.

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