According to Oxford University researchers, about one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem sometime during the year, while fewer than that smoke cigarettes — around 21 percent of men and 19 precent of women.
Furthermore, many mental disorders have a higher mortality risk than smoking. Yet despite these statistics, say the researchers, mental health still lags behind as a public health priority, especially compared to smoking.
The study, published in the journal World Psychiatry, was based on the best systematic reviews of clinical studies reporting mortality risk for a whole range of diagnoses: mental health problems, substance and alcohol abuse, dementia, autistic spectrum disorders, learning disability, and childhood behavioral disorders.
Twenty review papers were identified, including over 1.7 million individuals and over 250,000 deaths.
The findings showed that the average reduction in life expectancy in bipolar patients is between nine and 20 years, 10 to 20 years for schizophrenia, between nine and 24 years for drug and alcohol abuse, and around seven to 11 years for recurrent depression. The loss of years among heavy smokers is eight to 10 years.
“People with mental health problems are among the most vulnerable in society. This work emphasizes how crucial it is that they have access to appropriate healthcare and advice, which is not always the case,” said Dr. John Williams, head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust.
“We now have strong evidence that mental illness is just as threatening to life expectancy as other public health threats such as smoking.”
All diagnoses had an increase in early death, though the size of the risk varied greatly. Many had risks equivalent to or higher than heavy smoking.
“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,” said Dr. Seena Fazel of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University.
“There are likely to be many reasons for this. High-risk behaviors 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.”
One problem is the tendency to separate mental and physical illness, noted Fazel.
“Many causes of mental health problems also have physical consequences, and mental illness worsens 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,” he said.
Source: University of Oxford