Lower life expectancy for people with mental illness

RESEARCH from ANU found that men who are diagnosed with a mental health condition can expect to live 10.2 years less than those who aren’t, and women 7.3 years.

Lead researcher associate Prof Annette Erlangsen says the study, which analysed medical and hospital data from Denmark from 1994-2014, also found the “mortality-gap” has stayed consistent, despite efforts to address the issue.

“It is worrisome that the mortality gap between people with mental disorders and the general population has not decreased over the past decades – despite our efforts to address suicide prevention and other relevant factors,” she says.

ANU School of Demography’s associate Prof, Vladimir Canudas-Romo says while suicide, homicide and accidents (such as car crashes) are major contributing factors in the gap, these causes of death have seen some decline over the 20 year period.

He’s surprised, however, to see the gap in years lost between people with and without mental disorders doubled for deaths due to cancer and cardio-vascular disease.

“Overall the mortality gap has stayed the same, but the causes of death have changed,” he says.

“Cancer and health issues such as diabetes and heart disease are now playing a bigger role.”

Associate Prof Canudas-Romo says it’s concerning to see a marked increase in the number of alcohol related deaths.

“That was an eye opener,” he says. “Deaths involving alcohol still account for the major share of the life years lost among people with mental disorders over the past two decades.”

The research team has called on governments to address the mortality gap by implementing more holistic approaches to dealing with mental illness.

“It is not enough to be simply prescribing some medicine and sending them on their way,” Prof Canudas-Romo says.

He is currently exploring the prospect of replicating the study in Australia.

The article has been published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

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