Mental health disorders are known to lead to shorter life spans, and new research shows the longevity gap between sick and healthy individuals has widened since the 1980s.
The Australian study, published in the British Medical Journal, suggests more efforts need to be made to improve the physical health of individuals with a mental disorder.
The researchers noted the higher death rate associated with mental illness has been extensively documented, but most of the attention has focused on the increased risk of suicide. But in fact most of the risk can be attributed to physical illness such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and cancer — which account collectively for 80 percent of deaths.
The findings are based on an analysis of Australian mortality data between 1985 and 2005. The researchers compared life expectancy among psychiatric patients with the general Australia population.
The results showed that, in the general population, life expectancy increased from 73 years in 1985 to 79 years in 2005 for males and from 79 to 83 in females. But psychiatric patients had a shorter life expectancy — 13 years shorter than the general population in 1985 among males (increasing to 15 years in 2005) and 10 years shorter among females (rising to 12 years in 2005).
Although suicides represented a large proportion of excess deaths for patients with mental illness, the majority of deaths were related to cardiovascular disease.
The researchers noted there have been significant advances in reducing death rates due to common physical conditions, but people with mental illness have not benefited to the same extent as the general population.
In an accompanying editorial, Graham Thornicroft, a professor of psychiatry at King's College London, said that the paper's findings raise "disturbing" questions about our "disregard for the duration and value of the lives of people with mental illness."
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