Mental Health Problems Can Shorten Life More Than Heavy Smoking

Post image for Mental Health Problems Can Shorten Life More Than Heavy Smoking

A serious mental health problem can reduce life expectancy by 10 to 20 years, according to a new analysis by psychiatrists.

In comparison, the loss of years due to heavy smoking is around 8 – 10.

Researchers from Oxford University analysed studies which included 1.7 million people, reporting 250,000 deaths to compare the effects of smoking and serious mental health problems (Chesney et al., 2014).

One of the study’s authors, Dr Seena Fazel, explained:

“We found that many mental health diagnoses are associated with a drop in life expectancy as great as that associated with smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day.

There are likely to be many reasons for this.

High-risk behaviors are common in psychiatric patients, especially drug and alcohol abuse, and they are more likely to die by suicide.

The stigma surrounding mental health may mean people aren’t treated as well for physical health problems when they do see a doctor.”

Here are the average life expectancy losses for some of the major mental health problems:

  • Recurrent depression: 7 – 11 years.
  • Schizophrenia: 10 – 20 years.
  • Bipolar disorder: 9 – 20 years.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse: 9 – 24 years.

Figures from the UK show that about 21% of British men smoke and 19% of women.

In comparison, over the course of a year, 25% of people will experience a mental health problem, although most will not be as life threatening as those listed above.

Fazel continued:

“All of this can be changed. There are effective drug and psychological treatments for mental health problems.

We can improve mental health and social care provision.

That means making sure people have straightforward access to health care and appropriate jobs and meaningful daytime activities.

It’ll be challenging, but it can be done.”

Image credit: kygp

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Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 14 June 2014

Text: © All rights reserved.

Images: Creative Commons License