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'Scandal' of shortened lives of mentally ill

Serious mental illness shortens lives by 15-20 years with men particularly at risk according to a study from the Nordic countries.

The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, shows that the life expectancy gap has remained largely unchanged over the last 20 years – despite changes to the provision of mental health services and improvements in public healthcare.

Researchers from the Nordic Research Academy in Mental Health in Sweden studied the life expectancy of people admitted to hospital for a mental disorder in Denmark, Finland and Sweden between 1987 and 2006. They found that those with a mental disorder had a two- to threefold higher mortality than the general population in all three countries.

The gap in life expectancy did decrease slightly between 1987 and 2006 in Denmark and Finland, especially for women. Overall, however, progress was modest. The notable exception was in Sweden, where no progress was made in reducing the life expectancy gap for men with mental disorders.

The researchers put forward several explanations for the higher mortality rate among people with mental disorders including an unhealthy lifestyle, inadequate access to good-quality physical healthcare, and a culture of not taking physical disease into consideration when treating psychiatric patients. In addition, people with mental illness are more often poor, unemployed, single and marginalised – all known risk factors for poor health and premature mortality.

Writing in an editorial in the same issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, Graham Thornicroft, Professor of Community Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, described the study’s findings as 'a scandal'.

Page created on July 2nd, 2012

Page updated on July 2nd, 2012