Britain's Severely Mentally Ill Die Younger

A new study has found that British patients with a severe mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are also likely to be in poor health physically. Patients with schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses are known to have a shorter life expectancy--up to 25 years shorter than average. Many assume this due to death by suicide, but in fact the major cause of death among these patients is cardiovascular disease.

The Study

In the study, published by the University of East Anglia, nearly 800 patients with a severe mental illness had their physical health evaluated. (This screening was done as part of a Wellbeing Support Programme, and patients were offered assistance in addressing the physical health problems found.) The results of the screening were worrisome:

  • Two-thirds of patients were overweight or obese
  • Most patients reported being inactive, poor eating habits, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption
  • One-third suffered from high blood pressure and over half had high cholesterol
  • An unexpectedly high proportion of patients were be prescribed atypical antipsychotics that are associated with weight gain

What Can Be Done?

The study authors make several suggestions for addressing this problem of poor health among people with illnesses like schizophrenia. One thing they suggest is that all health care professionals should promote healthy living habits, which includes leading by example. They emphasize that it isn't enough to manage the mental health of a schizophrenic patient--the physical health is also extremely important.

Professor Richard Gray, of UEA's School of Nursing and Midwifery, concludes that "All health professionals have a duty to promote health in the patients they treat. Government guidelines must reflect the shared responsibility all health care professionals have to promote health in one of the most marginalized and socially excluded groups in our society."

Read more: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/uoea-leo031511.php

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