Mentally ill? Expect to die sooner

In the midst of the Virginia Tech shootings and the Rebecca Riley case, the media have finally shone a spotlight on mental illness. Some good, some bad (see TAC’s lock ’em and throw away the key).

Marilyn Elias’ article in USAToday, "Mental illness linked to short life," points to obesity and antipsychotics as two of the main factors. (They’re inextricably linked.)

"Obesity is a serious problem. These patients often get little exercise, and many take a newer type of anti-psychotic, on the market for 18 years, that can cause drastic weight gains, promoting diabetes and heart disease, Parks says. He thinks these drugs are contributing to deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Recent studies question the advantage of the newer drugs. "Many could be switched to safer medicines," Parks says. Schizophrenics are thought to have a higher risk for diabetes already, he says."

The article specifically mentions that people with mental illness tend to die at the age of 51 as opposed to the national average of 76. The odds of dying are as follows:

  • 3.4 for heart disease and diabetes, respectively
  • 3.8 for accidents
  • 5.0 for respiratory disease
  • 6.6 for pneumonia and the flu

The staggering fact here is "three out of five" people die from diseases that can either be prevented or easily treated. This combats the widespread myth that the mentally ill die mostly by accidents and suicide.

My hope here is that as the NY Times and USAT pick up on the issues of mental illness, the public can become less callous to those who are – ahem – "crazy" and try to reach out to them. Despite the TAC’s point of view, most of us are NOT violence and benefit from the help of a caring few.

What a shame that 32 lives had to be taken to spark this discussion.

USAToday has a great list of related articles. I recommend "New antipsychotic drugs carry risks for children."

PERSPECTIVES: One family’s success story
PERSPECTIVES: Mom feels betrayed by doctors, FDA
Adult antipsychotics can worsen troubles
For foster kids, oversight of prescriptions is scarce
A rush to overprescribe?
Opinion: An outraged journalist and father discovers the mental health system is in ‘shambles’
Welcome to the club.

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