Long-term illnesses can influence mental health

People with long-term health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease are two to three times more likely to experience mental health problems than the general population, according to research by The King’s Fund and the Centre for Mental Health.

Where a mental health problem is identified alongside a physical health illness, the two have traditionally been treated separately, with services designed around conditions rather than patients, it added.

Yet there is a growing volume of research evidence suggesting that more integrated approaches, with closer working between professionals responsible for patients’ mental and physical health, can improve outcomes while also reducing costs.

Co-existing mental health problems could lead to increased hospitalisation rates (patients with chronic lung disease, for example, spend twice as long in hospital if they also have a mental health problem) and less effective self-management, as poor mental health meant that people with heart disease or other long-term conditions were less likely to look after their health, it said.

Report lead author and fellow at The King’s Fund Chris Naylor said: “The prevailing approach towards improving care for people with long-term conditions is at risk of failing unless we look at patients’ needs as a whole, including their mental health needs. To achieve this, mental health provision cannot simply be tacked on to physical care but needs to be an integral part of it.”

One key way to achieve better care was for organisations to follow NICE clinical guidelines, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has added.

For example, its clinical guideline on depression provided advice on the identification and treatment of depression in those with long-term physical health conditions.

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