Why Does Serious Mental Illness Shorten Life Expectancy?

People with serious mental illness are more likely to die below average life expectancy, and to die at an earlier age, than are people without serious mental illness. That mental illness often results in premature mortality is not a new observation. However, researchers in Ohio have taken a closer look to try and determine what factors may contribute to this disparity, which causes of death are most prevalent for people struggling with mental illness, and how this information might be used to increase life expectancy and treatment of patients.

The research was published in the July issue of the American Psychiatric Association’s Psychiatric Services journal. Researchers wanted to measure the years of potential life lost (YPLL) of the general population as compared to individuals within that population who were dealing with mental health issues. They focused on Akron, Ohio, and compared the death records of over 16,000 residents. Of those, 647 people were receiving services from the local mental health center for persistent and serious mental illnesses. Those receiving services had an average age at death of 73.4 years old, compared to the general population, whose average age at death was 79.6 years.

After adjusting for other factors, it was determined that people dealing with serious mental illness missed out on 14.5 YPLL, and the general population missed out on 10.3 YPLL. For both groups, heart disease was the leading causes of death, but people with mental illness were also more likely to die from liver disease, cancer, and septicemia, as well as unnatural causes such as accidents, assault and suicide. This study differs from previous work, which looked at cause of death for hospitalized patients; most of these people received outpatient care from the community health center. Looking at these health statistics provides important insight as to what is most needed in treating the majority of patients; the study’s leaders hope it will help to develop holistic treatment programs that combine mental health therapy and physical health guidance in a central, patient-based program.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • McCullum


    July 2nd, 2010 at 4:12 PM

    Such illnesses and problems not only degrade your health but also drain you of resources and funds and take away your mental peace.I have experienced this first hand because my uncle was affected by a prolonged illness.It also degrades everything for the family members of the affected person.

  • rYAN


    July 3rd, 2010 at 8:57 AM

    And think about the even shorter life expectancies of people with serious mental health problems who never receive any care. Think about much shorter their lives probably are compared to those who at least receive some level of care throughout their lives.

  • little jacob

    little jacob

    July 3rd, 2010 at 5:00 PM

    the human mind be a very unique and a very important part of the body and it control everything else…when that be affected by something,everything else be affected too.dis da reason not too many ppl can cope with a problem with the brain!

  • Vi


    July 4th, 2010 at 5:39 AM

    shortens life expectancy because the majority of these people who have mental illness have no one in their lives to help take care of them- no one to get them to the doctor or to help them do all of the things that they could be doing to better their lives and increase the longevity

  • Bethany


    July 5th, 2010 at 10:31 AM

    It is so sad that so many people with such promise are expected to live lives with littel care and then have to end up forfeitting all that is good about life with out that same care. We have all got to get on the bandwagon people and get those who need the most help the care that they need and deserve. Why should their lives not be as full and rich as our own? Thats not something that is ever going to be fair in my book. They have mental health issues, yes, but that does not have to translet into a shortened life does it? Whta is going on that causes their physical health to deteriorate so much more quickly, or is it simply a ,matter of them giving up on life a lot sooner than they should have to?

  • elina


    July 5th, 2010 at 2:47 PM

    an aunt of mine who I was very close to suffered from various mental health disorders when she was middle-aged.although not physically disabled,her life was far from normal and this led to a deterioration in everything that was in her life,including her career,family,friends,hobbies and everything else.

    I just pray that nothing like this ever happens to anyone again :(

  • Adrian Gomez

    Adrian Gomez

    July 5th, 2010 at 3:35 PM

    I agree that it shortens the life expectancy.But its not just that.It not only affects the quantity of life,but also its quality.The overall quality of life and everything that is good in life goes out and there seems to be only loneliness and sadness for most people affected by such problems.

  • Terri Young

    Terri Young

    July 6th, 2010 at 4:34 AM

    And when we see stories like this we still continue to think that budget cuts are the answers? Not!

  • Blake


    August 9th, 2010 at 2:16 PM

    I have spent half my life in therapy, with little results, other than not committing suicide because I take medication. I don’t blame anyone anymore, but I also don’t see a cure to the issue. My personal issues deal with OCD coupled with attachment problems. I see my health declining rapidly already. I’m only 31, and already I am starting to have knee pains from being obese, and heart pains. I don’t blame anyone, and it’s entirely my fault that I cannot see the world as others, and that I smoke a pack a day. I don’t know how to change. And even if I could, would I? Cause certainly I’ve learned more than the average person on psychology and self-help, etc. But it NEVER goes away. I really think mental illnesses are incurable.

  • Sean T

    Sean T

    December 13th, 2015 at 2:40 AM

    I am a recoveing alcoholic and drug addict diagnosed with ADHDH,major depressive disorder,anxiety, PTSD and bipolar disorder. I find that if I have a burning desire to overcome my mental discrepancies and to get well no matter what I see the improvements in the quality of my life.

  • Cris


    May 30th, 2017 at 12:47 AM

    I assume the adjustments of all needed medications, that lead to new future required medications because of side effects causing more new side effects etc…would cause your body to shut down drastically. Options seem limited…Do I want medication and a shorter than average life or risk untreated long term self chaos. Doomed if i do, Doomed if I don’t.

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