Serious Mental Illness Can Take Toll on Life Span

FRIDAY, July 2 (HealthDay News) -- Non-institutionalized individuals struggling with serious mental illness face a shorter life span than the general population, new research reveals.

The conclusion appears to be independent of a range of potential influences, including race, gender, ethnicity, education level and/or marital status.

The finding is reported in the July issue of Psychiatric Services by a team of researchers from Northeastern Ohio University College of Medicine and Pharmacy. Although other studies have established a link between mental illness and premature death, this one focused on the years of life lost after adjusting for social and demographic factors and the cause of death.

To examine life expectancy among the mentally ill, the authors looked at the death records of 647 residents of Akron, Ohio who had been treated for serious and ongoing mental illness but were not inpatients in a hospital setting. The records were compared with those of more than 15,500 residents in the general population of Akron.

Compared to current U.S. life expectancy statistics, the research team found that those coping with mental illness lost 14.5 years of "potential life," dying at an average age of 73.4 years. Those in the control group lost 10.3 years of potential life, dying at an average age of nearly 80 years.

Although heart disease was the number one cause of death for both groups, among those with serious mental health issues, premature mortality was increased by cancer, liver disease or a systemic, life-threatening infection (septicemia). "Unnatural causes," including suicide, accidents and assault, also increased the risk of premature death, the authors noted in a news release.

The team concluded that in addition to maintaining vigilant suicide prevention programs, mental health care workers should team up with primary health care providers to focus preventable causes of premature death. They added that a mental health care home for every patient -- a place that integrates primary care, wellness promotion and mental health -- holds great promise in terms of prevention.

- Alan Mozes

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SOURCE: Psychiatric Services, June 28, 2010, news release.