News Video | Policy | GPs | Hospitals | Medical | Mental Health | Welfare | Search


Medical conditions add to mortality risk of mental illness

Friday 23 May 2014

Medical conditions add to premature mortality risk of people with mental illness

People using mental health services in New Zealand are dying prematurely from both natural and external causes, a new University of Otago Wellington study has revealed.

While suicide and accidents are contributors to these high death rates, chronic medical conditions such as heart disease and cancer are a significant cause, the study has found.

Published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal [read as Friday], the study of 266,093 people who had contact with mental health services between 2002 and 2010 shows that the death rate for people who experience mental health problems severe enough to lead to contact with psychiatric services is twice that of the total population.

People with the most severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have three times the overall death rate of the total population, the study shows.

Lead author Dr Ruth Cunningham says the findings highlight the need to understand and meet the physical health needs of people with mental illness.

More than 7000 adults who had used mental health services died before the age of 65 during the study period. The main cause of death for both women and men were natural (71% and 58% respectively), due mainly to cancer and heart disease. Suicide accounted for 15% of deaths in women and 22% of deaths in men, and accidents were also common, Dr Cunningham says.

High smoking rates and antipsychotic medications are recognised health risks for people with mental illness that lead to medical conditions such as cancer and heart disease, but there are other less obvious risks, such as lack of appropriate treatment for medical conditions, that need to be acknowledged and addressed, Dr Cunningham says.

Discrimination and social deprivation will also be contributing to the mortality gap, she says.

“For example, both here and overseas, people using mental health services are saying they experience discrimination by health service providers. This can lead to a lack of adequate preventative care and treatment.”

Discrimination can occur against anyone with mental illness, especially those with severe mental illness, and can make it extremely difficult to secure a job and decent housing, which further impacts on health, Dr Cunningham says.

“We found that those using mental health services were more likely to be living in socially deprived areas, which also drives up the risk of premature death.”

This critical health issue has been well researched internationally, but this is the first time it has been documented in New Zealand, Dr Cunningham says.

The next step must be coordinated action to address these health inequalities, through initiatives such as the “Equally Well” project, which was initiated in September 2013 by Te Pou and Platform Trust, she says.

“Equally Well” is a New Zealand initiative which has been gathering evidence on the extent of physical health problems for people with a severe mental illness and/or addiction, including the results of this study. Its next phase will focus on coordinating action across key organisations, including medical colleges, and government and non-government agencies, to improve the physical health outcomes of people with a severe mental illness and/or addiction.

Ongoing monitoring of the physical health and mortality of people with mental illness is essential, in order to evaluate the effectiveness of any interventions and to ensure that the health of this group is no longer neglected, Dr Cunningham says.

For more information on Equally Well visit:


© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Scoop Review Of Books: Worldly And Unworldly

"Being Magdalene" by Fleur Beale The situations shown in this youth novel are shocking, scary, and very moving as we experience Magdalene’s struggle to be a perfect girl as defined by the cruel and unreasonable leader of “The Children of the Faith”, as she moves reluctantly into young womanhood. More>>

Whistle Stop: Netball NZ To Implement New INF Rules

Netball New Zealand (NNZ) will implement the new Official Rules of Netball, as set down by the International Netball Federation (INF), from January 1, 2016. Key changes include the elimination of whistle following a goal, amendments to injury time and changes to setting a penalty. More>>


Scoop Review Of Books: Waiata Aroha

Vaughan Rapatahana on Chappy by Patricia Grace: With this eminently readable novel Patricia Grace returns to the full-length fiction stage after a hiatus of ten years. More>>

'Ithaca' At Q Theatre: Introducing NZ's World Class Cirque Troupe

NZ’s very own cirque troupe is set to become a household name with the premier of its adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey having secured a key season in Auckland. More>>

Music Awards: The Tuis Are Broody This Year

Topping off a sensationally eventful year both at home and internationally, Nelson born brother-sister duo Broods has taken home four Tuis from this year’s 50th annual Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards. More>>


Sport: Richie McCaw Retires From Rugby

Richie McCaw has today confirmed he is hanging up his boots and retiring from professional rugby. The 34-year-old All Blacks captain and most capped All Black of all time has drawn the curtain on his stunning international career which started in Dublin 14 years ago, almost to the day, and ended in London last month when he hoisted the Webb Ellis Cup aloft for the second time. More>>


John McBeth: On Jonah Lomu

For many New Zealanders, the enormity of Jonah Lomu's reputation will have come as a surprise... His deeds were watched and enthused over by movie stars and musicians, politicians and superstars from other codes. He reached into the lives and homes of millions and mixed with famous people most New Zealanders would only have read about. More>>


Get More From Scoop



Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news