People with severe mental illness have far worse physical health, officials warn

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People with severe mental illness experience far worse physical heath compared to the general population, with the greatest inequalities seen among younger people, health officials have warned.

Public Health England (PHE) said patients with Severe Mental Illness (SMI) have a higher prevalence of obesity (1.8 times more prevalent than the general population), diabetes (1.9 times) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (2.1 times).

They are also 1.6 times more likely to suffer a stroke, heart failure (1.5 times), coronary heart disease (1.2 times) and asthma (1.2 times).

People with SMI also die on average 15 to 20 years earlier than the general population, and are around twice as likely to have multiple physical health conditions.

SMI refers to people diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, or who have experienced an episode of psychosis.

PHE said its report also found younger people (aged 15–34 years) with SMI experience the greatest level of health inequalities – they are five times more likely to have three or more physical health conditions than the general population.

They are also three times as likely to be obese, 3.7 times as likely to suffer from diabetes and have 3.2 times the chance of having high blood pressure.

The PHE report looked at GP data as part of its wider work to improve the physical health of people with mental illness.

Mark Winstanley, chief executive of mental health charity Rethink, said it was “hugely concerning” the average life expectancy of someone with SMI is the same as the average adult in the 1950s.

“The physical health needs of people experiencing serious mental illness must be taken into consideration alongside their mental health needs,” he added.

PHE’s head of clinical epidemiology, Professor Julia Verne 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.”

Professor Tim Kendall, national clinical director for mental health at NHS England, said: “Improving the life expectancy of people with serious mental health issues needs coordinated action, and this report adds to our knowledge, reinforcing the need for a continued focus on closing the physical health outcomes gap.

“The NHS is already increasing early detection and expanding access to evidence based physical care assessment and follow-up care, with more than 280,000 people set to get help by 2020/21, while the NHS long-term plan will set out further priorities for the years ahead.”

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