Mental illness may shorten life spans
Mental illness can take between seven and 24 years off a person’s life, according to a new study in the journal World Psychiatry.
Researchers examined 20 studies that looked at the link between major mental disorders and death rates, encompassing more than 1.7 million people. After a thorough review, they found that mental illness can greatly shorten people’s lives.
For instance, the average life expectancy was 10 to 20 years shorter for people with schizophrenia, 9 to 20 years shorter for those with bipolar disorder, 7 to 11 years shorter for those with recurrent depression, and 9 to 24 years shorter for people with drug and alcohol abuse.
“We found that many mental health diagnoses are associated with a drop in life expectancy as great as that associated with smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day,” said lead study author Dr. Seena Fazel, in a news release. “There are likely to be many reasons for this. High-risk behaviors are common in psychiatric patients, especially drug and alcohol abuse, and they are more likely to die by suicide.”
And while mental illness appears to greatly increase the risk of premature death, it’s not currently a significant public health priority, the researchers noted. They speculate one of the reasons is the tendency for people to separate mental and physical health.
“Many causes of mental health problems also have physical consequences, and mental illness worsens the prognosis of a range of physical illnesses, especially heart disease, diabetes and cancer,” said Dr. Fazel.” Unfortunately, people with serious mental illnesses may not access health care effectively.”
This may be due to the stigma surrounding mental health, making people uncomfortable and unwilling to bring it up when they see a doctor, said Dr. Allison Benthal, an internal medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group in Libertyville, Ill.
“Make it a priority to talk to your doctor about what’s bothering you,” says Dr. Benthal. “Talking about it is the only way we can figure out what’s wrong and take action to remedy the problem.”
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