High mortality burden attributed to mental health disorders

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Feb. 11, 2015

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Kathi Baker
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Melva Robertson
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The relationship between mental health disorders and mortality is complicated because most people with those disorders do not die of their conditions; instead, they die of chronic diseases such as heart disease, infections, suicide or other causes.

An analysis of 203 research articles from around the world shows that approximately eight million deaths annually are attributable to mental illness. The results of this study are published in the Feb. 11 online JAMA Psychiatry.

"Our findings show that individuals with mental health disorders have a risk of mortality that is two times higher than the general population," says lead author Elizabeth Reisinger Walker, PhD, MPH, MAT, fellow in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. "This translates to about 10 years of life lost for people with mental disorders."

The comprehensive meta-analysis covered mental disorders overall, as well as specific diagnoses such as schizophrenia, mood disorders, depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders, and included studies both of people who were hospitalized and those treated in the community.

The authors describe a mortality gap between people with mental disorders and the general population that has been increasing since before 1970.

"Our results indicate that the mortality gap may apply to people with a variety of mental health disorders," they write. "People with these disorders are not experiencing the increased life expectancy of the general population."

The relationship between mental health disorders and mortality is complicated because most people with those disorders do not die of their conditions; instead, they die of chronic diseases such as heart disease, infections, suicide or other causes. In addition, people with mental health disorders tend to have higher rates of chronic disease risk factors, including tobacco smoking, substance abuse, physical inactivity and poor diet.

The authors conclude that a variety of approaches are necessary to address the different causes of death, ranging from suicide prevention to prevention and care of chronic medical conditions.

Coauthors for this study are Benjamin Druss, MD, MPH, professor of health policy and management at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, and graduate student Robin McGee, MPH.

The research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (5K24MH07586703) and a National Institute of General Medical Sciences career development award (K12GM00680).