Anorexia and other mental health problems as deadly as smoking

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Researchers at Oxford University have found that mental health problems, such as recurrent depression and anorexia, could be as deadly as smoking.

The authors have stated that people in Britain who suffer with mental health problems have life expectancies similar to the general population in Bangladesh and North Korea, or the British population during the 1930s.

The study indicated that mental health conditions had a higher fatality rate when compared to the general population. It showed a life expectancy reduction of between seven and 24 years.

The research involved the analysis of data taken from 20 studies which included in excess of 1.7m people and 250000 fatalities.

The research team calculated that by smoking 20 cigarettes each day, a person’s life expectancy is reduced by eight to 10 years. This is compared to an average life expectancy reduction for those with bipolar disorder of between nine and 20 years, schizophrenics between 10 and 20 years, drug and alcohol abusers between nine and 24 years, and those who suffer from recurrent depression between seven to 11 years.

The number of years lost by heavy smokers was between eight and 10 years.

The Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University’s Dr Seena Fazel, said that the research indicated many of the diagnoses of mental health were linked to a decline in life expectancy comparable to that of smoking 20 or more cigarettes per day.

He stated that there were many reasons for this. High-risk behaviour is very common in psychiatric patients, particularly alcohol and drug abuse, and they are at higher risk of dying by suicide. Dr Fazel said the stigma that is associated with mental health may prevent people from obtaining the same treatment as they would for physical health problems.

Dr Fazel added that many mental health problems may be caused by physical health problems. The prognosis of illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease may be worsened by mental health issues. However, many people who suffer with serious mental health conditions may not be gaining access to healthcare in an effective manner.
Dr Fazel stated that all this could be changed.

Image Credit: Jaci Berkopec

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