People with severe mental illness more likely to develop a physical health condition

People with severe mental illnesses (SMIs) – such as bipolar affective disorder, psychosis or schizophrenia – are more likely to suffer from a physical health condition or have multiple health issues than the general population.

Analysis published by Public Health England, which looks at GP data for adults aged under 75, showed that people who received an SMI diagnosis had a higher prevalence of:

  • obesity (1.8 times more likely than the general population);
  • diabetes (1.9 times);
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (2.1 times);
  • stroke (1.6 times);
  • heart failure (1.5 times);
  • Coronary Heart Disease (1.2 times);
  • asthma (1.2 times); and
  • multiple physical health conditions (twice as likely).

PHE said those with severe mental health conditions die on average 15 to 20 years earlier than the general population – a statistic that Professor Julia Verne, head of clinical epidemiology, said is “unacceptable”.

“We need to look beyond mental illness to a ‘whole person’ approach to health care, helping to improve peoples’ lives,” she said.

“It is vital that people experiencing severe mental illness are supported to improve their physical health, including better access to support and services such as screening programmes, health checks and stop smoking services.”

In particular, those aged 15-34 with SMIs were more likely to have three or more physical conditions than the general population.

They were three times more likely to be obese; 3.7 times more likely to be diabetic and 3.2 times more likely to be diagnosed with hypertension.

Serious mental health conditions were found to be more prevalent in people from “deprived” areas. Consequently, these people were also at a higher risk of developing a physical health condition.

According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guideline on psychosis and schizophrenia in adults, patients with an SMI should have an annual physical health review that considers weight, BMI and blood pressure, among other factors, at least once a year.

Professor Tim Kendall, national clinical director for mental health at NHS England said the NHS is increasing early detection and expanding access to physical care assessment and follow-up care. It expects more than 280,000 people will get help by 2020 to 2021.

“Improving the life expectancy of people with serious mental health issues needs coordinated action, and this report adds to our knowledge, reinforcing the need for a continued focus on closing the physical health outcomes gap,” he said.

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