News

Call to boost life expectancy of those with severe mental illness

Report says life expectancy for these patients is the same as that of the general population in the 1950s, and they are more likely to experience physical ill-health
Severe mental illness

More must be done to improve the life expectancy of people with severe mental illness, a new report states.

Nearly half of people in the UK with severe mental illness (SMI), such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, have a 10-20 year shorter life expectancy than the general population, according to the report by the RCN and other key health bodies.

This means life expectancy for people with SMI is the same as that of the general population in the 1950s. They are also more likely to have physical ill-health and more likely to be obese or smokers.

Same standards

The new report, from the royal colleges of nurses, psychiatrists, pathologists, physicians and GPs, as well as the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, Public Health

More must be done to improve the life expectancy of people with severe mental illness, a new report states.


People with severe mental illness are more likely to have physical ill-health and to be smokers. Picture: iStock

Nearly half of people in the UK with severe mental illness (SMI), such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, have a 10-20 year shorter life expectancy than the general population, according to the report by the RCN and other key health bodies.

This means life expectancy for people with SMI is the same as that of the general population in the 1950s. They are also more likely to have physical ill-health and more likely to be obese or smokers.

Same standards

The new report, from the royal colleges of nurses, psychiatrists, pathologists, physicians and GPs, as well as the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, Public Health England and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, sets out a series of recommendations that highlight how adults with SMI can receive the same standards of healthcare as the general population and reduce the risk of premature death.

Recommendations in the report, Improving the Physical Health of Adults with Severe Mental Illness: Essential Actions, include:

  • A new national group with experts from across the health sector to address and monitor this issue.
  • Each mental health service, acute hospital, general medical practice or GP federation should develop a physical health strategy for patients with SMI that is approved by the board and reviewed annually; they should also appoint a lead clinician at board level to be responsible for its implementation.
  • Staff training should be reviewed to ensure healthcare professionals are equipped to fulfil the physical health needs of people with SMI, such as being able to recognise physical illness and take appropriate action.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘People with severe mental illness have the same right to good physical health as anyone else, and everyone in health care has a duty to work towards this. 

Closing the gap

‘There are good examples of healthcare staff working hard to improve the physical lives of people with severe mental illness, and the health service must get better at sharing good practice. The practical recommendations in this report are an important step towards closing the unacceptable mortality gap.’

Academy of Medical Royal Colleges chair Dame Sue Bailey said health professionals should have the same ambitions for the physical health of people with SMI as for the general population.

Samantha Nicklin, head of campaigns and public affairs at the charity Rethink Mental Illness, said: ‘There are a number of factors contributing to the current situation, whereby the lives of people affected by a mental illness such as schizophrenia are being cut short.

‘These include a lack of physical health checks, cases where people’s physical health is overlooked or dismissed as a manifestation of their mental illness, and lastly the side-effects of anti-psychotic medications, which can cause extreme weight gain, increasing the risk of conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.’

An NHS England spokesperson said the NHS was allocating extra funding to double the proportion of people with SMI having physical health checks over the next 2 years, adding: ‘It makes sense to introduce physical health checks and to get treatment started while individuals are admitted to hospital or in other healthcare settings.’


Further information

Improving the physical health of adults with severe mental illness: essential actions

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