Research Reveals Mental Illnesses Are A Risk Factor For Breakthrough COVID Infection

Breakthrough COVID-19 cases among the vaccinated population are rare, but they are to be expected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The organization reports that health departments in 49 states had confirmed at least one breakthrough case as of May 1, 2021. Symptoms from breakthrough cases are likely to be less severe, but it is important to remember that even if you are vaccinated, and you develop a breakthrough case, you can spread the virus.

Experts have known that certain segments of the vaccinated population are more at risk for developing breakthrough cases of COVID-19. For example, people with compromised immune systems are more likely to develop a breakthrough case. In addition, vaccinated people who live in areas where there is a COVID outbreak might be more likely to catch the virus. Now, a new study published in JAMA Network Open reveals that people with mental health problems might also be at a greater risk of developing breakthrough cases.

Impaired immune function may be a cause

The research used data from 263,697 patients who sought care at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs between February 20, 2020 and November 16, 2021. Most of the patients were males over the age of 65, and more than half had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder within the past five years. The study showed people diagnosed with depressive, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, bipolar, attention deficit or hyperactivity, and substance or alcohol use disorders were more likely to develop breakthrough cases of COVID-19. Elevated risk was highest for people with adjustment disorders and substance use disorders.

Experts suggested that people with mental disorders exhibit "impaired immune function" and that they may "engage in more risky behaviors" that expose them to the virus. Furthermore, they may also have other medical conditions, such as heart disease, that may put them at greater risk of getting the virus.