Mortality and mental illness

Mental illness can shorten your life span. We’ve known for a long time that people living with mental illness have a higher likelihood of other serious health conditions such as heart disease.  We also know mental illness seems to hamper or slow recovery from some medical conditions.

Recent meta-analysis of data from 203 studies conducted in 29 countries around the world has shed light on the bigger picture of mortality and mental illness. This analysis found people with mental illness have a mortality rate that is 2.22 times higher than the general population and their lives are shortened by an average of about 10 years.

While mental illness is directly responsible for death in some cases, many people with mental illness die from other medical conditions and at a higher rate than in the general population.

More than two thirds of deaths among the mentally ill in this analysis were from natural causes. This of course raises questions and concerns about medical care and prevention among the mentally ill.

Interestingly, this study found the mortality gap has gotten bigger in recent years – studies beginning in the 1990s showed higher mortality than those beginning in the 1970s. Researchers say it appears people with mental illness are not experiencing the increased life expectancy enjoyed by the general population.

Increased mortality could be occurring for a variety of reasons. It is well known that many psychiatric conditions are associated with higher prevalence of unhealthy behaviours such as smoking and substance abuse, which could increase general mortality and cause lower overall health.

Access to quality healthcare is also a concern as are social determinants of health such as poverty and social connectedness. We know that people with mental health conditions often do not receive preventive health care such as immunizations or cancer screenings, they are less likely to get tobacco counseling and tend to receive a lower quality of care for chronic medical conditions.

All of this information gives us a roadmap toward ensuring better care for those living with mental illness.

Of course we need to continue working to prevent events such as suicide, but this is also an excellent reminder that mentally ill individuals are whole people with more than one aspect to their health. Sometimes symptoms of mental illness can overshadow everything else because of how debilitating they can be, but we should not neglect proper diagnosis and management of other chronic health issues or illness prevention in this population.

If you or a loved one are living with mental illness and are concerned about the quality of your general medical care, talk with your healthcare professional about your concerns.


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