People with Mental Health Challenges May Have Shorter Life Expectancy

A new study reveals a startling life expectancy for those who suffer with mental health issues. Researchers from the Biomedical Research Centre for mental health at the Maudsley Hospital in London examined the medical records of over 30,000 patients in the UK to determine life expectancy. All of the clients they studied were diagnosed with serious mental health issues including major depression, bipolar, schizophrenia and substance abuse. They discovered that the majority of the people in the study were dying prematurely from treatable physical illnesses, such as cancer, stroke and heart attack, rather than from suicide or acts of violence. Those with the shortest life expectancy; nearly 18 years shorter than the average age of 81; were women with mood issues or schizophrenia.  Men with similar mental health challenges saw a decreased life expectancy of almost 15 years. The researchers think that these findings can be attributed to many factors, including prolonged use of anti-psychotic medication, substance abuse, risky lifestyles and social and cultural means.

Dr. Rob Stewart, of the Biomedical Research Centre, said, “These results show the enormous impact mental health conditions can have on general health and survival.” He added, “We need to improve the general health of people suffering from mental disorders by making sure they have access to healthcare of the same standard, quality and range as other people, and by developing effective screening programs.”

Jane Harris, from the charity Rethink Mental Illness, said “Action must be taken; we cannot carry on tolerating the fact that people are dying from preventable illnesses, due to a health system which treats mental health patients as second class citizens.” And Care Services Minister Paul Burstow concluded by adding, “Our strategy, ‘No health without mental health’, aims to improve the physical health of people with mental health problems, reduce premature deaths, and ensure evidence-based mental healt h therapies are available for all who need them.”

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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

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  • Jason


    May 25th, 2011 at 2:51 AM

    It may be due to the thugs mentioned here but one thing that I believe contributes a lot is the failure to seek the right treatment at the right time. If that happens then I don’t think so many people would die prematurely.

  • Shannon


    May 25th, 2011 at 4:41 AM

    When I initially began reading this of course I had the thought that most of the deaths were probably self inflicted but bagan to realize otherwise as I continued to read. That surprised me as that was not necessarily the answer that I was expecting. It is pretty scary to think that what someone may be doing to control one issue, like taking anti anxiety or anti psychotic drugs, could actually be causing more harm in the long term. This is something for many doctors to think about and come up with an overall treatment plan, not one that just treats one venue while not considering that other situations that could come up as a result.

  • stevie kent

    stevie kent

    May 25th, 2011 at 7:05 PM

    Could it be that these preventable conditions are not being treated because their physician isn’t looking for them?

    I feel doctors always see the mental illness first and anything else second. It’s also not always easy to get a mentally ill person to agree to examinations and tests as readily as a patient who is not.

    That combination could be why they die sooner: it takes longer for the condition to be detected, if ever, before it’s well advanced or too late.

  • Rosemary W.

    Rosemary W.

    May 25th, 2011 at 7:52 PM

    What exactly is the most common cause of death in the mentally ill as a whole?

    Schizophrenia isn’t fatal, and neither is depression. Not directly anyway, so why would it knock two entire decades off your life? I don’t understand that.

  • Nathan Hyde

    Nathan Hyde

    May 25th, 2011 at 9:24 PM

    @Rosemary W. : The “indirect” part is exactly it. Drug use can cause problems over a long period of time. Especially if you’re abusing them. It can cause your liver to cease functioning altogether. There’s also increased stress among the mentally ill, which increases your heart-attack risk.

  • vivian brown

    vivian brown

    May 27th, 2011 at 10:34 PM

    @Rosemary W.– I concur with Nathan. There’s also suicide of course. Depression can be very easily linked to suicide through both studies and also common sense.

    People with severe schizophrenia have very severe self-esteem issues. Depression can also stem from poor self-esteem.

    I wish we had advocates on this side of the pond like Burstow in government, men or women in influential positions championing the needs of the mentally ill. I doubt we’ll ever see anything close to the UK’s Care Services Minister here.

  • WilliamStewart


    June 3rd, 2011 at 8:44 PM

    Life expectancy estimates don’t solely factor in physical health. If you think it does, you are mistaken.

    It also takes into account unnatural causes of death-including violence, accidents and suicide-when calculating our average life expectancy.

    I wanted to make that clear distinction.

  • Grant Hobbs

    Grant Hobbs

    June 4th, 2011 at 1:54 PM

    The amount of time it takes off your life is utterly ridiculous. This can be prevented obviously as the doctor said with more effective screening programs. So why aren’t they in place?

    I’m honestly starting to think doctors are only in it for the money and they think mental health patients are more trouble than they are worth.

  • Violet Carr

    Violet Carr

    June 5th, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    @Grant Hobbs: It’s extremely expensive to train as a doctor. Obviously they want to recoup the money they’ve already invested in their training and more. Over their college plus med school years it could be easily close to $100,000 and that’s assuming it’s a run of the mill college they attend. You can’t put a price on the eight years of their lives minimum they invest too.

    That high cost is a serious healthcare problem right there in the States. It costs far too much and that’s why we don’t have nearly enough. If our politicians directly tackled that issue and brought it down, there would be many more able to qualify and take the pressure off the existing professionals.

    Maybe then they would have more time to spend on treating mentally ill patients thoroughly and in depth.

  • Hope Stephano

    Hope Stephano

    June 11th, 2011 at 9:36 PM

    I can see risky lifestyles for bipolar people while they’re in a good mood being problematic if I really stretch my imagination, but wouldn’t their common sense override them doing something very dangerous?

    You’re either a cautious person or you’re not I think. I don’t see that changing overnight.

  • Rex D. James

    Rex D. James

    June 16th, 2011 at 7:53 PM

    @Hope–Be careful not to underestimate the influence a mental illness can have on a person. A schizophrenic for example can have some very wild delusions about themselves and others, and those delusions can also include delusions about their limits.

    If they think their lives are at risk, they might commit some very risk-laden acts to save themselves from their own imaginations.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on