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New research sparks call to action

Physical health risks for people with mental health and addiction problems sparks a call to action

Media release, 24 June 2014

We now have a better understanding of why people with mental health and addiction problems have poor physical health and what we can do about it. This is thanks to recent research by the University of Otago, and an evidence review undertaken by mental health and addiction workforce agency Te Pou and Platform Trust, a national network of non-government mental health and addiction organisations.

Recent research from Dr Ruth Cunningham and her colleagues at the University of Otago shows that people using mental health services in New Zealand are two to three times more likely to die prematurely than the general population, and much of this greater risk is due to cardiovascular disease and cancers.

The evidence review, released today, summarises the drivers of this health disparity and importantly how to tackle it.

Robyn Shearer, chief executive of Te Pou, says the research shows health services and related agencies need to work together on a plan of action.

“We know from the evidence review that there are effective ways to improve physical health outcomes for people with experience of mental health and addiction problems. We have to work together on solutions to known risk factors - particularly the side effects of medication and access to and quality of health services. All health services need to acknowledge and prioritise the physical health of people with experience of mental health and addiction problems.”

A new initiative by Platform Trust and Te Pou called the Equally Well project, aims to facilitate collective action on this issue. (

Marion Blake, chief executive of Platform, says the New Zealand findings support an international trend. “While life expectancy for most people living in developed countries around the world has been improving over the last few decades, it has been getting worse for people with mental health problems and addictions. This is unacceptable. We must act collectively and we must act now.”


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