Life expectancy of people with mental health illnesses shorter than heavy smokers
Research has found that mental illnesses reduce life expectancy by ten-twenty years, more so than those who are heavy smokers.
Researchers at Oxford University have found that mental health problems such as anorexia and recurrent depression can affect a person’s life expectancy in the same way smoking 20 cigarettes a day.
The researchers found that people who smoked 20 cigarettes a day can see a reduction by eight to ten years in their life expectancy. People who have bipolar disorder have a life expectancy of between nine and twenty years, schizophrenia sufferers between ten and twenty years and drug and alcohol abusers around nine to 24 years, reports the Telegraph.
The research found that all mental health conditions studied had higher death rates when compared with the general population. A reduction in life expectancy was between seven and 24 years.
Dr John Williams, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust, said: “People with mental health problems are among the most vulnerable in society. This work emphasises how crucial it is that they have access to appropriate healthcare and advice, which is not always the case. We now have strong evidence that mental illness is just as threatening to life expectancy as other public health threats such as smoking.”
Study author, Dr Seena Fazel of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University said: “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. There are likely to be many reasons for this. High-risk behaviours are common in psychiatric patients, especially drug and alcohol abuse, and they are more likely to die by suicide. The stigma surrounding mental health may mean people aren’t treated as well for physical health problems when they do see a doctor. Many causes of mental health problems also have physical consequences and mental illness worsen the prognosis of a range of physical illnesses, especially heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Unfortunately, people with serious mental illnesses may not access healthcare effectively. All of this can be changed. There are effective drug and psychological treatments for mental health problems. We can improve mental health and social care provision. That means making sure people have straightforward access to health care, and appropriate jobs and meaningful daytime activities. It’ll be challenging, but it can be done. Smoking is recognised as a huge public health problem. There are effective ways to target smoking, and with political will and funding, rates of smoking-related deaths have started to decline. We now need a similar effort in mental health.”
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