Seriously mentally ill 'die younger'

Psychiatrists need to keep an eye on the physical health of patients not just their mental health, says expert

Psychiatrists need to consider the physical health of patients who die up to 25 years earlier than those without a serious mental illness, says an expert.

The premature deaths, on average 10-25 years earlier in Australasia, are often due to physical health conditions that could have been avoided with better management or a greater focus on prevention, says Professor Malcolm Hopwood.

The president of the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) was speaking at its annual conference in Hong Kong at a ceremony for doctors who have graduated as psychiatrists.

"There is a great irony in the fact that people under the care of mental health services often get less general medical care for their physical health," he said.

They experience much higher rates of physical ill-health, particularly chronic diseases including cardiovascular, diabetes and respiratory conditions.

Prof Hopwood urged psychiatrists to consider providing more support to patients to reduce the side-effects of medication and place a greater emphasis on diet and exercise.

They also should spend more time and energy in "reaching out to other clinicians to ensure that simple screening for cancer and chronic diseases occurs as effectively as it should".

"I sometimes think that the worse thing a person can do for their physical health is to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder," he said.

"What is not made difficult by the condition itself is exacerbated by stigma and discrimination which is evident even in the health sector."

He noted that psychiatrists were trained in both physical and mental health, giving them a unique insight into factors which might impact on life expectancy.

The RANZCP recently released a report about the economic costs of the premature mortality of people with serious mental illness.

It calculated the cost of the burden of disease in Australia annually was $56.7 billion while the lost productivity cost was $45.4 billion.

The NZ figures were $12 billion and $3.1 billion.

* The writer travelled to Hong Kong courtesy of the RANZCP

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