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People with mental illness may face poorer physical health and early death

18 July 2019

The researchers' ground-breaking report has four key aims including: establishing extent of physical health disparities in people with mental illness; highlighting key modifiable factors that drive poor health, presenting initiatives for health policy and clinical services to address these issues, and identifying promising areas for future research into novel solutions.

"Patients with serious mental illness are two to three times as likely to have obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases - which impact on quality of life and recovery".

"The disparities in bodily health outcomes for folks with mental sickness are now considered a human rights scandal", stated Joseph Firth, an analysis fellow at the University of Manchester and chairman of the Lancet Psychiatry Commission, which revealed the research.

The team of over 30 global researchers found that mental illness is associated with a broad range of physical burdens such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

But even after controlling for risk factors such as smoking, physical activity and body mass index, the report found that deaths remained higher in those with mental illness.

It said many people with mental health problems are resorting to "risky quick-fixes" to get support from friends and families, which are leaving both them and their carers vulnerable to fraud or legal difficulties.

One 2013 study from ANU found among the Danish population, men with mental illness have a life expectancy approximately one decade shorter, while women with mental illness tend to have a life expectancy about seven years shorter than the general population.

"These comorbidities begin to arise early on, and affect people with mental illness across the entire lifespan".

Dr Rosenbaum also said lifestyle interventions - such as encouraging people to be more active or eat healthier - were known to help reduce chronic disease in the general population and had to become a core component of mental healthcare.

"Our commission found that although there is increasing attention towards the lifestyle risk factors in mental illness, there is still a widespread lack of implementation of evidence-based lifestyle interventions for these populations".

Dr Siskind said conditions such as diabetes served as a stark example, with rates twice as high in those with mental illness compared to the general population.

"These programs likely complement other efforts such as telepsychiatry programs for children and families who have no nearby provider, and student loan forgiveness programs meant to increase the number of child-focused mental health providers", said Bradley Stein, of the RAND Corporation.

The report also found differences in the availability and quality of healthcare were to blame, with some research suggesting people with mental illness were less likely to have physical examinations in primary care, and less likely to receive medical or surgical interventions. The report discovered, for instance, that many drugs used to treat mental diseases - including antidepressants, antipsychotics and mood stabilizers can have adverse results on metabolism and heart health.

Rosenbaum believes that to narrow the gap in life expectancy, traditional mental healthcare must be rethought and the practitioners involved in treating mental illnesses need to be reassessed. "There are a lot of barriers", Dr Rosenbaum said.

People with physical illnesses are regularly referred to dietitians and exercise physiologists as part of efforts to intervene in poor lifestyle practices.

"The connection between physical and mental health is now more recognised than ever".

"It's partly due to awareness and education but also a lack of knowledge of where providers are", he said.

People with mental illness may face poorer physical health and early death