Following on from my brief mention of mental illness in yesterday’s blog entry here, I wanted to point out some recent research that highlights another dimension of mental illness; the very real physiological effects of mental illness.

I think those who are unaware of mental illness tend to think of it in rather non-tangible terms and perhaps do not consider anything beyond that. There are numerous co-morbid conditions that exist alongside depression and anxiety, for example; insomnia, weight issues (unhealthy adding and losing weight), IBS and other gastric and digestive disorders, skin issues and much more besides.

Experts tend to agree that people with major depression, for example are at increased risk of age-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease (this may also be partly due to unhealthy lifestyle choices that accompany depression, such as alcohol use and sedentary lifestyle).

A recent study published in World Psychiatry journal has even suggested that serious forms of mental illness can “take between seven and 24 years off a person’s life, which is similar to or worse than the impact of heavy smoking.”

In a press release about the research published this year, Dr Seena Fazel of Oxford University Psychiatry Department states “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,” and goes on to add; “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,” Fazel noted. “The stigma surrounding mental health may mean people aren’t treated as well for physical health problems when they do see a doctor.”

Fazel’s team examined 20 studies that looked at the link between mental illness and death rates. The studies included more than 1.7 million people, and 250,000 deaths. The researchers do not claim and state that the research does not show that mental illness causes early death, but they did find that major mental disorders can greatly shorten people’s lives. They found that individuals who suffered from schizophrenia had a 10 to 20 years shorter life expectancy than those without.

Last year, the BBC reported that ‘depression makes us biologically older‘ too.
The study cited by the BBC suggested that depression speeds up the ageing process in our cells resulting in us being physiologically older. The results were cited from Molecular Psychiatry journal and examined more than 2000 people.


It has been reported again this week that depression may be on the rise. At least, there has been a rise in antidepressant prescriptions rates in England.

The article in the Guardian cites official figures: “The amount of antidepressants dispensed annually in England rose by 25m between 1998 and 2012– from 15m items in 1998, to 40m in 2012 – according to a new study which claims that England’s increasing use of antidepressants has accelerated since the financial crash in 2008.

Published as part of the Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation’s QualityWatch programme, the research shows that almost half of the increase between 1998 and 2012 occurred in the four years between the 2008 financial crisis and 2012 (the last year for which data is available). Meaning the annual rise in prescriptions has risen to 8.5% per year since the banking crash, compared to 6.7% before.”

In the face of so much evidence, it makes sense for people to be encouraged to seek out resources to help overcome mental health issues. Charities offer support, there are private therapists, and there are even apps, books and other resources to help these days, even if you just think someone may have mental health issues, perhaps point them to a professional who can in turn point them to resources even if that individual is unable to see a professional for some reason.