Mental illness shortens life more than heavy smoking

Researchers from the University of Oxford in the U.K. say people with mental illness have a reduced life expectancy of 10 to 20 years, which is worse than heavy smokers. The research was recently published in World Psychiatry.

The research team analyzed 20 review papers of clinical studies about mortality risk and a variety of mental illnesses. These papers encompassed 1.7 million people and more than 250,000 mortalities. These outcomes were then compared to data on heavy smokers.

According to their findings, people with bipolar disorder have an average reduced life expectancy of nine to 20 years; schizophrenia is 10 to 20 years; drug and alcohol abuse is nine to 24 years; and chronic depression is seven to 11 years. In comparison, heavy smokers’ average reduced life expectancy is eight to 10 years. Heavy smoking is identified as smoking 20 or more cigarettes per day.

Why does mental health curb life expectancy so much? Researchers speculate it may be because mental illness often involves high-risk behaviors, suicide is more prevalent in the mental illness community, and the stigma associated with mental illness often prevents people from seeking treatment.

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