Mental Health: It’s not always about the mind

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A recent study from Australia regarding death from physical ailments like cardiovascular disease and cancer among the population of people with mental health problems highlights that people living with psychiatric and substance abuse problems are at a significantly elevated risk for early death from physical illnesses much greater than that of the general population.

In the study it was found that men with mental illness had a life expectancy that was 16 years shorter than males in the general population and for women the lifespan difference was 12 years. Cardiovascular disease accounted for 29.9% of deaths and 13.5% died due to cancer. 13.9% of the deaths were attributed to suicide. The increased likelihood of early death is further enhanced by increasing life expectancy in the general population.

Men and women with alcohol and/or drug disorders had the lowest life expectancies. For men it was 52.7 years of age and 55.4 for women.

The researchers involved in the study have underscored a serious point to consider about the socioeconomic, healthcare and clinical risk factors borne by the population of people with mental health and/or substance abuse problems which clearly account for an extremely high number of early deaths. As much as society talks about addressing the needs of people with mental illness we may be missing the boat in terms of how healthcare problems reduce their life expectancy and enhance their risk for life threatening disease.

References: Primary source: BMJ

Lawrence D, et al “The gap in life expectancy from preventable physical illness in psychiatric patients in Western Australia: retrospective analysis of population based registers” BMJ 2013;3 46: f2539.

Additional source: British Medical Journal
Source reference:
Thornicroft G “Premature death among people with mental illness” BMJ 2013;346:f2969.

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