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Severe Mental Illness: Lifestyle Changes May Help You Live Longer

Severe Mental Illness: Lifestyle Changes May Help You Live Longer

  • April 14, 2020
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A new study examines which lifestyle interventions can prolong the lives of people with severe mental illness.


People with severe mental illness tend to live shorter lives than the general population. Studies show that women live on average 12 years less and men 13 years less.

However, a new study by researchers from King’s College London and other British institutions has shown that solving a group of three health problems can significantly reduce this gap.

Reducing unhealthy behavior, abuse of health services, and social exclusion can add 4 to 7 years to the lives of people with Severe Mental Illness.

These three problems may seem familiar, and rightly so – these are risk factors for a person’s longevity.

The researchers behind this study report that about 80% of people with Severe Mental Illness die from heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, cancer, and digestive disorders. By focusing on the care of Severe Mental Illness for these people, health professionals inadvertently ignore these long-term health problems.

The researchers analyzed the research data available to direct public health policy. The aim is to determine the effect of controlling these risk factors on the lives of people with Severe Mental Illness.

Researchers have found that improvements in these areas have increased life expectancy.

For research purposes, the team divided the questions into three categories:

  • Unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and lack of exercise
  • Healthcare factors, including failure to benefit from available therapies such as medication or access to health resources
  • Social determinants such as isolation due to stigmatization and exclusion from social activities.

Researchers realized the health benefits of increased access to antipsychotic medications and smoking cessation. They also examined the impact of participation in exercise and education programs to reduce social exclusion.

They found that efforts to stop smoking increased life expectancy of 2 years and 5 months in people with schizophrenia and 1 year and 1 month in people with bipolar disorder.

Likewise, helping people with bipolar disorder live a less sedentary lifestyle extend their lives for 1 year and 3 months.

Our study shows that by addressing the health behaviors, healthcare engagement, and social issues of people with severe mental illness, we could potentially increase their life expectancy by about 4 to 7 years.

Lead author Alex Dregan, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Psychiatry at King’s College London.

While improvements in one of these areas have clear benefits, researchers have seen the most profound impact if these three areas are managed effectively.

Severe Mental Illness can happen at any time in life, and Dregan and his colleagues noticed positive changes in longevity when the management of the three areas was established early.

When looking at scenarios where all of these factors were treated, the researchers found that life expectancy increased by 4 years in people with bipolar disorder and 7 years in people with schizophrenia.

For people over 65 years of age with Severe Mental Illness, the authors also pointed out the benefits of taking control later on. Data shows an increase in life expectancy of 3 years in adults with bipolar disorder and 4 years in adults with schizophrenia.

The analysis indicates that when considering different approaches to help those with severe mental illness, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and there is more benefit if a multifaceted approach is taken, which addresses behavior, healthcare, and social issues simultaneously

The researchers’ results indicate that health care providers must take a holistic view of their patients with Severe Mental Illness.

Dregan concluded:

Greater investments in developing more effective interventions aimed at reducing unhealthy behaviors and treating the underlying symptoms would contribute to reducing the gap in premature mortality between those with severe mental illness and the general population.

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