Patients with Mental Illness May Have Shortened Life Spans, Study Show

In a very disturbing report published online in the May 2014 issue of the medical journal World Psychiatry, it was revealed that people with serious mental illnesses may face the risk of having a shortened life span. Researchers say that these mental disorders may take away as much as 24 years of a patient’s life. It was pointed out that this can be worse than the effect of smoking 20 cigarettes or more every day.

Review of Scientific Studies in UK

Led by Dr. Seena Fazel, a team of researchers from the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom carried out an extensive review of scientific studies with the objective of determining the association of mental illnesses and death rates. A total of 20 previous studies involving 1.7 million patients and 250,000 deaths were assessed by the research team.

Alarming Results of Studies

After evaluating the data gathered, the research group was able to conclude that major mental disorders can hugely shorten the lives of people. As an example, it was shown that people suffering from schizophrenia had an average life expectancy that was 10 to 20 years shorter than people without this disorder. For bipolar disorders, patients had a shorter life span of between 9 to 20 years. Those with recurrent depression were determined to have a life expectancy that was shorter by 7 to 11 years.

Perhaps the most alarming figures were for those who were into drugs and alcohol abuse where their live spans may be cut by as much as 24 years. To make a comparison, the researchers mentioned that heavy smoking, based on clinical trials, may only shorten a person’s life by 8 to 10 years.

Possible Explanations of Study Outcome

In explaining these findings, the researchers came up with possible reasons. It was suggested that patients with mental disorders carry with them high-risk behaviors such as drug abuse and the tendency to commit suicide. It can also be possible that the social shame and embarrassment associated with these conditions may mean that treatment may not be as comprehensive as that of people diagnosed with physical ailments.

It was also noted that mental disorders may have devastating consequences on physical health which can hasten early deterioration. Not recognizing mental disorders as a major public health priority may contribute to this outcome, the lead researcher added.

Significance of Study

The outcome of this study is very significant in that it demonstrates the huge challenges involving mental health. This should be a wake-up call for health authorities, the health and medical industry, and people who may have at their care patients with mental disorders. Health officials should be urged to give priority to mental health while the medical industry should do their share in addressing these problems. Relatives of patients with mental disorders can do so much in helping patients. They can extend the utmost care and understanding and most of all, they should take the initiative in seeking professional help for these people.