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As part of a new study commissioned by University of Queensland, Metro South Health (MSH) researchers have discovered an 18-year life expectancy gap between people with mental illness and the general population that can only be bridged by protecting patient’s physical and mental health.
MSH researcher based at Princess Alexandra Hospital, Dr Dan Siskind, said prioritising physical health in such patients should be the priority.
“One in five people across the world live with mental illness and people with mental illness can die up to 18 years earlier than the general population,” Dr Siskind said.
“Contrary to popular belief, this is not because of suicide.
“It is from physical health issues associated with mental illness like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and lifestyle factors.
“This study aimed to find out how great the life expectancy gap really is between those living with mental illness and the general population, discover the causative pathways for this gap, and look at practical strategies to narrow it.”
It was found that the physical health of patients was often overlooked in pursuit of treating the mind which can have detrimental outcomes.
Dr Siskind said conditions such as diabetes served as a stark example, with rates twice as high in those with mental illness compared to the general population.
“Getting people more physically active, improving nutrition, and stopping smoking and substance abuse are all lifestyle factors that can be modified to improve health outcomes,” he said.
“We need patients to be thinking about their own needs and advocate for their physical health as much as their mental health,” he said.
“This is about making everyone realise patients are whole people; it’s not just about eradicating mental health problems; we need to look after physical health too.”
The researchers hope the findings serve as a blueprint for doctors and healthcare professionals treating patients with mental illness.
The findings have been published in the Lancet Psychiatry. (DOI:10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30132-4 )
Caption: Dr Steve Kisely Director of Research MSAMHS, Dr Dan Siskind based at Princess Alexandra Hospital, Dr Shuichi Suetani from Logan Hospital