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People with Serious Mental Illness More Likely to Die Young

A recent study shows that people who struggle with a severe mental illness are likely to die at a younger age than people who do not suffer with mental illness. Most of those deaths are from natural, largely preventable causes. It is hoped that renewed efforts and a focused strategy can save lives.

Britain's National Health Service has made public its new mental health strategy with the clever tag line, "No Health Without Mental Health." The strategy aims to reduce the number of early deaths among patients suffering with mental health problems. To reach its goal, the government has outlined three strategies:

  • Improve integration between primary and secondary care providers
  • Improve physical health screenings for the mentally ill
  • Improve follow-up after hospital discharges for patients with psychiatric disorders

The results from the new study conducted by a team from King's College, London reveal that improved care for the mentally ill has failed so far to close a gap that exists between the general population and those suffering from severe mental illnesses. The team began by examining and analyzing records for all patients discharged from English hospitals who suffered from either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder during the years 1999-2006. The team then followed a cohort making yearly comparisons between their mortality and that of the population at large.

The mortality risk for people with schizophrenia in 1999 was 1.6 times that of the general population but by 2006 it had doubled. Patients with bipolar disorder experienced similar increases. In 1999 the mortality risk for persons with bipolar disorder was 1.3 times that of the population and grew to 1.9 by 2006.

Mortality rates were also tracked by age during the study. There was a stabilized mortality rate for those who suffered with either bipolar or schizophrenia and were under the age of 65 at the same time that mortality rates in the general population were declining. For those with one of the conditions who were over the age of 65, mortality rates increased.

Nearly 75 percent of the deaths among the study group were from natural causes, primarily circulatory and respiratory diseases. Early detection and improved intervention could save lives. Some doctors allege that patients with severe mental illness are receiving substandard care.

The study's authors have suggested targeting risk factors like heart disease among the inpatient populations and insist that combined with proper follow-up these causes of death among the mentally ill could be greatly reduced. In fact, they say, inpatient psychiatric care provides a unique opportunity for screening and intervention.

The United Kingdom's new mental health strategy sets the goal of reducing premature deaths among citizens with mental illnesses. This study may indicate that achieving the goal will require some concentrated effort. Nevertheless, those efforts could close the existing mortality rate gap between the seriously mentally ill and the general population.

Posted on September 26th, 2011
Posted in Articles

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