Approximately eight million deaths each year are attributable to mental illness, according to a newly published meta-analysis.
This “mortality gap” between people with mental disorders and the general population has been increasing since before 1970, researchers say, adding to an already massive global burden associated with mental illness.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), around 61.5 million Americans – the equivalent to 1 in 4 – experience some form of mental disorder in any given year. Approximately 13.6 million Americans have a serious mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or major depression.
The link between mental illness and poor health is well documented, including a clear link with premature death. Last year, researchers at Oxford University found that mental disorders can reduce life expectancy by 10 to 20 years — as much as or even more than smoking over 20 cigarettes a day.
The new analysis of 203 research articles included mental disorders overall, and specific diagnoses such as schizophrenia, mood disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders. The researchers considered studies of both people who were hospitalized and those treated in the community.
“Our findings show that individuals with mental health disorders have a risk of mortality that is two times higher than the general population,” says lead author Dr. Elizabeth Reisinger Walker, a fellow in the health policy and management department at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.
“This translates to about 10 years of life lost for people with mental disorders,” she added.
The results “indicate that the mortality gap may apply to people with a variety of mental health disorders,” Dr. Walker and colleagues write in the article, published online in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. “People with these disorders are not experiencing the increased life expectancy of the general population.”
The relationship between mental health disorders and mortality is complicated because most people with those disorders don’t die of their conditions; instead, they die of chronic diseases such as heart disease, infections, suicide, or other causes.
In addition, people with mental health disorders tend to have higher rates of chronic disease risk factors, including tobacco smoking, substance abuse, physical inactivity, and poor diet.
A variety of approaches are necessary to address the different causes of death, ranging from suicide prevention to prevention and care of chronic medical conditions, the authors conclude.