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Psychiatric patients lose 15-20 years of life

Danes with bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia have life expectancies as in Yemen and Sudan.

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The normal life expectancy of a Dane is around 80 years of age. But if a person suffers from a serious psychiatric illness requiring psychiatric hospitalisation, life expectancy is dramatically shortened by 15 years for women and 20 years for men, according to a new Nordic survey.

The survey of 270,000 people who were admitted to a psychiatric hospital at least once between 2000-2006 shows that the life expectancy of psychiatric patients is around the same as the World Bank’s expectancy figures for Sudan (61), Pakistan (65) and Yemen (65).

“These alarming figures require action to stop the high mortality rates,” the Danish, Swedish and Finnish researchers say in their report in the online scientific journal PLOS ONE.

Consultant Psychiatrist Prof. Merete Nordentoft of the Copenhagen Pyschiatric Centre says that the upcoming national plan of action for the psychiatric sector must address the substantially reduced life expectancy of psychiatric patients. “Psychiatrically ill citizens have a 20 times greater risk of dying from suicides and many die from mishaps in connection with intoxication, such as falling and traffic accidents connected to their substance abuse. Nonetheless only a small number of patients die in this way. The main reason for increased mortality is that people with psychiatric illnesses have many more lifestyle illnesses than other people and more often die from them. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, respiratory illness and others,” says Nordentoft, one of the authors of the report.

Suicide among those with affective complaints such as depression is higher than for those with personality complaints such as schizophrenia. On the other hand, narcotics and alcohol abuse and lifestyle illnesses are more prevalent among those with personality disorders whose suicide rate is somewhat lower than those with depression.

Nordentoft says that people with psychiatric illnesses tend to live less healthy lives than the average for the population. A considerable number drink too much alcohol or use narcotics, are less fit and have more unhealthy eating habits. All of these factors give them lifestyle illnesses that result in a higher mortality rate.

At the same time there are several well-known side effects of psychiatric medicine, and in particular drugs taken by those suffering from schizophrenia, which have been linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The effect on mortality of these drugs, however, is difficult to gauge as they also prolong life by stabilising patients and preventing suicide.

Nordentoft says there are three strategies that can change developments.

“First of all we must look at how we help people with psychological problems to get a healthier lifestyle without substance abuse, with more exercise and healthier eating habits. Secondly, there seems to be a certain lack of treatment of the physical illnesses of those with psychological problems. And thirdly we must look at the side effects of medicines,” Nordentoft says.

DOCUMENTATION: See the report HERE (external link)

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