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Mental Illnesses Shorten Lifespan, Study Finds

Update Date: May 24, 2014 10:34 AM EDT
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People often associate the mortality rate caused by mental illnesses with depression and suicide. Even though this particular illness can be highly debilitating, a new study found that mental illnesses in general could shorten lives. The researchers reported that serious mental illness could shorten people's lives by seven to 24 years, a rate that is similar to the effect of excessive smoking.

In this study headed by Dr. Seena Fazel, of the department of psychiatry, at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, the researchers reviewed 20 studies that examined that relationship between mental illness and mortality rates. There were a total of 1.7 million people and a recorded 250,000 deaths. The team discovered that major mental illnesses took years off people's lives.

"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," Fazel said according to Philly. "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."

The team reported that people with schizophrenia lived around 10 to 20 years less in comparison to people without any mental diseases. Bipolar disorder and recurrent depression took seven to 11 and nine to 24 years off of people's lives respectively. When the team compared these rates to the death rate of heavy smokers, they found that excessive smoking took off an average of eight to 10 years.

"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 health care effectively," Fazel stated.

The study was published in World Psychiatry.

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