People with mental health problems have a lower life expectancy, according to a new study.
In a study published in the British Medical Journal, a team of researchers from University College London and the University of Edinburgh analyzed data from more than 68,000 adults aged 35 years and over who took part in the Health Survey for England from 1994 to 2004.
Study participants were evaluated for mental health problems using a scale ranging from no symptoms to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety. The team then looked to see whether people who reported symptoms during the study were more likely to have died over an eight-year period.
They also examined whether there was an association with death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, or from external causes of death.
Their results reveal that people who experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression had a lower life expectancy than those without any such symptoms.
Even people with minor symptoms of mental health problems seemed to have a higher risk of death from several major causes, including cardiovascular disease, according to the researchers.
“These associations also remained after we did our best to take into account other factors, such as weight, exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption, and diabetes,” said Dr. David Batty, a Wellcome Trust research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology & Public Health at UCL and senior author on the study.
“Therefore this increased mortality is not simply due to people with higher levels of psychological distress having poorer health behaviors.”
The researchers postulate that there is a possibility that mental health problems may be associated with biological changes in the body that increase the risk of diseases such as heart disease.
In the study, approximately a quarter of the people suffered from minor symptoms of anxiety and depression, the researchers report, adding that these patients do not usually come to the attention of mental health services. The researchers say the findings could have implications for the way minor mental health problems are treated.
“The fact that an increased risk of mortality was evident, even at low levels of psychological distress, should prompt research into whether treatment of these very common, minor symptoms can reduce this increased risk of death,” said Dr. Tom Russ, a clinical research fellow at the University of Edinburgh.
“People with mental health problems are among the most vulnerable in society,” added John Williams, Ph.D., head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust. “This study highlights the need to ensure they have access to appropriate health care and advice so that they can take steps to improve the outcome of their illness.”
Source: Wellcome Trust