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Life expectancy of people with mental illness is 18 years shorter, but exercising would help

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Posted July 18, 2019

Mental health issues are real, people. Scientists estimate that life expectancy of people with mental illness is around 18 years shorter than general population. This is not something to be overlooked – if you feel like you might be suffering from some kind of mental illness, look for help. But how can we fix that gap in life expectancy? University of Queensland researchers say that it can only be bridged by protecting patients’ physical and mental health.

Care for both physical and mental health is necessary to improve life expectancy of people with mental illness. Image credit: Tellmeimok via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

But why people with mental illness live shorter? Contrary to popular belief, this difference in statistics is not due to suicide. Scientists found that people with mental illness typically die from diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other conditions that depend on lifestyle factors. Mental illness simply takes away the desire to take care of yourself. For example, rates of diabetes are twice as high in those with mental illness compared to the general population. Rates of obesity and substance abuse are also much higher between people with mental health issues. And there is another problem.

When doctors assess patient’s condition, they usually focus on the illness, such as their mental conditions. This means that people suffering from mental illness typically do not get attention in other areas, such as their physical health. For example, doctors rarely suggest a person exercises if he or she is suffering from serious mental illness. There have been numerous studies that showed that physical exercise helps coping with mental health challenges, but these results didn’t make it into guidelines for medical personnel.

Scientists remind us that motivation is often lost among people with mental illness. This makes a difference when you are trying to encourage them to start exercising. However, it is still necessary, but will require a more open view to the treatment. Dan Siskind, one of the authors of the study, said: “We wanted to empower psychiatrists to be involved in the primary healthcare of their patients and engage the efforts of a multi-disciplined team, a team that includes not only psychologists and nurses but also nutritionists and exercise physiologists”.

One in five people across the world live with mental illness and this number is not getting lower any time soon. They often live 18 years shorter than they would if they didn’t have the condition. Paying more attention to their physical health is absolutely necessary. In fact, it could ease their mental illness as well.

 

Source: University of Queensland

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