As anyone coping with a serious mental illness knows, these disorders can take a toll on your physical health, your happiness and your quality of life. Now researchers have investigated just how much mental illness can impact your health and well-being. It turns out that having a serious mental illness can shorten your lifespan by up to 20 years, making it as impactful, or more so, than heavy smoking. If you struggle with a mental illness, take action and seek out the best care possible. You have the ability to make sure that your illness does not take over your life.
Mental Illness and Life Expectancy
Mental illnesses are real medical conditions characterized by disrupted moods, thinking and feeling. If you have one, it may affect your ability to cope with stress, relate to other people and even function on a daily basis. Examples of serious mental illnesses include schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are treatments for these illnesses that involve medications as well as various types of therapy.
The latest research, which was conducted at Oxford University, has shed light on just how destructive these mental illnesses can be, especially when untreated. In order to investigate how mental illness is related to life expectancy, the researchers combed through review papers that included nearly 2 million people and 250,000 deaths. They looked at causes of death, suicides and diagnoses for mental illness.
The results of the study found that for people with bipolar disorder, life expectancy is reduced by nine to 20 years. The reduction for schizophrenia is between 10 and 20 years, for substance abuse, between nine and 24 years, and for chronic depression, seven to 11 years. When compared to the lowered life expectancy for heavy smokers, which is about 10 years, it becomes clear just how serious a threat mental illness is to overall health.
There are several reasons given by the researchers for why mental illness is capable of causing a significant drop in life expectancy. One issue is that high-risk behaviors are more common among people with mental illnesses. Another is that people are less likely to seek treatment for mental illnesses than for physical issues due to stigma. Many healthcare providers also fail to recognize that mental illness can cause physical problems and treatment is not always adequate.
Making Changes to Mental Health Care
By investigating the impact that mental illness has on life expectancy, the Oxford researchers hope to shed light on how serious these diseases are. While everyone now knows just how harmful smoking is to health, mental health doesn’t get the same attention. As a public health issue, many states have banned smoking and nonprofits have promoted anti-smoking campaigns. The mental illness researchers hope that they can stimulate the same kind of attention for what is clearly a public health issue on the same scale as smoking.
The good news is that the statistics about life expectancy can be changed. Effective treatments for mental illnesses are available. To reverse the lowered life expectancies, we simply need to improve access to these treatments. By giving the same level of attention and funding to mental health as has been given to smoking, we can turn things around and make sure that people who are suffering get the care they need.