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Severe mental health problems lead to poor physical health and early death

28 September 2018

Public Health England report: Severe mental illness (SMI) and physical health inequalities: briefing

A new Public Health England report shows people with severe mental illness (SMI) suffer worse physical health compared to the general population.

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Severe mental illness refers to people who have received a diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder or schizophrenia, or who have experienced an episode of psychosis.

The report looks at GP data for adults aged under 75. It was prompted by the inequalities that are known to exist in people with severe mental illness who die on average 15 to 20 years earlier than the general population.

The report found patients with SMI have a higher prevalence of:

  • obesity (1.8 times more prevalent than the general population)

  • diabetes (1.9 times)

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (2.1 times)

  • stroke (1.6 times)

  • heart failure (1.5 times)

  • Coronary Heart Disease (1.2 times)

  • asthma (1.2 times)

Patients with SMI are also around twice as likely to have multiple physical health conditions as the general population.

Younger people (aged 15 to 34 years) with SMI experience the greatest level of health inequalities. They are 5 times more likely to have 3 or more physical health conditions than the general population.

Younger people with SMI suffer further from a higher prevalence of:

  • obesity (3 times more prevalent than the general population)

  • diabetes (3.7 times)

  • hypertension (3.2 times)

Professor Julia Verne, Head of Clinical Epidemiology at Public Health England, said:

“It’s unacceptable that people with severe mental illness live with more ill health and die up to 20 years younger than the rest of the population.

“We need to look beyond mental illness to a ‘whole person’ approach to health care, helping to improve peoples’ lives. It is vital that people experiencing severe mental illness are supported to improve their physical health, including better access to support and services such as screening programmes, health checks and stop smoking services.”