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Physical Health May Suffer in People With Mental Disorders

July 30, 2019

An 18-year gap in life expectancy exists between people with mental illness and the general population, according to a paper published online in Lancet Psychiatry.

“Contrary to popular belief, this is not because of suicide,” said Dan Siskind, PhD, a psychiatrist at the University of Queensland in Australia who served on the Lancet Psychiatry Commission that wrote the report. “It is from physical health issues associated with mental illness, like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and lifestyle factors.”

The commission found the physical health of patients with mental disorders was often overlooked in favor of treating mental health. Consequently, the paper calls for better prioritization of physical health in patients with mental illness.

Diabetes, for example, occurs twice as much in people with mental illness, compared with the general population, Dr. Siskind explained. Interventions including physical activity, better nutrition, and cessation of smoking and substance use could go a long way in helping to improve health outcomes in such patients, he said. Medications, too, could be better managed to reduce the risk of obesity and other side effects.

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The commission’s report includes a blueprint of strategies for health promotion, clinical care, and future research to protect the physical health of people with mental illness. According to Dr. Siskind, a multidisciplined approach would help patients, many of whom lack the motivation to address physical health on their own.

“We wanted to empower psychiatrists to be involved in the primary health care of their patients and engage the efforts of a multidisciplined team, a team that includes not only psychologists and nurses but also nutritionists and exercise physiologists,” Dr. Siskind said.

“A ‘one-stop-shop’ where patients can have their mental health and physical health needs met by a team of experts can lead to improved health care outcomes.”

—Jolynn Tumolo

References

Firth J, Siddiqi N, Koyanagi A, et al. The Lancet Psychiatry Commission: a blueprint for protecting physical health in people with mental illness. Lancet Psychiatry. 2019 July 16;[Epub ahead of print].

Body and mind need care in mental illness [press release]. Brisbane, Australia: The University of Queensland; July 17, 2019.

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