Updated 18 July 2013

Mental illness can shorten lives

Besides causing psychological pain to sufferers, mental illness can also take a toll on lifespan.


While mental illness can bring great anguish to those who suffer from it, two new studies show it can also take a toll on lifespan.

One study found that bipolar disorder boosted a person's odds of premature death, and the other found that teens with psychotic symptoms were at higher risk of suicide.

In the first study, researchers analyzed data from more than 6.5 million Swedish adults. The survey included more than 6 600 people with bipolar disorder, a chronic mental illness that is a leading cause of disability worldwide.

On average, women and men with bipolar disorder died 9 and 8.5 years earlier, respectively, than people in the general population. People with bipolar disorder were two times more likely to die from any cause and were also at increased risk of death from heart disease, diabetes, COPD, flu or pneumonia, accidental injuries and suicide. Women with bipolar disorder also had an increased risk of death from cancer.

However, the timely diagnosis of health problems appeared to cut the risk of death from chronic diseases among people with bipolar disorder, added the team of researchers led by Dr Casey Crump of Stanford University. They called for better primary, preventive medical care for these patients.

Suicide attempts

The second study included more than 1 100 teens, aged 13 to 16, who were assessed for psychotic symptoms. 7% of the participants were found to have such symptoms and of those, 7% reported a suicide attempt during three months of follow-up, compared with only 1% of those who did not have psychotic symptoms.

At the end of 12 months of follow-up, suicide attempts were reported by 20% of the teens with psychotic symptoms, compared with just 2.5% of the rest of the study participants.

The researchers also found that 14% of teens with psychopathology and psychotic symptoms at the start of the study reported a suicide attempt after three months, while 34% did so after 12 months.

"Adolescents with psychopathology who report psychotic symptoms are at clinical high risk for suicide attempts," concluded the team led by Dr Ian Kelleher, of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. They believe that closer monitoring of symptoms and a better understanding of what those symptoms might be "are urgently needed".

Both studies were published online July 17 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Although an association was found between mental illness and early death, the studies did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers facts about mental illness.

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