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Severe mental illness patients' life expectancy 22 years shorter than average: study

This Dec. 7, 2011 file photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter shows the exterior of the University of Tokyo Hospital in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward. (Mainichi)

People with severe mental illness have a life expectancy 22 years shorter than average and are more likely to die from heart attacks and suicide than other people, a University of Tokyo Hospital study has found.

    The research team including assistant professor Shinsuke Kondo of the University of Tokyo Hospital Department of Neuropsychiatry published the results of the study in BJPsych Open, part of the British Journal of Psychiatry. This is the first investigation of its kind to have been conducted in Japan, and the trend reportedly aligns with that found in similar studies in Britain and Northern Europe.

    Kondo found that those surveyed died at an average age of 63, 22.2 years earlier than the national average life expectancy. They were also 5.09 times more likely to die from cardiovascular illnesses and 7.38 times more likely to take their own lives than the average person.

    His study examined users of group homes and other facilities run by social welfare corporation "Sudachikai" based in the western Tokyo city of Mitaka, where he is employed as a consulting physician, after the participants had been released from a long-term stay in psychiatric wards. He compared the age and cause of death of the 45 patients with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, that passed away over a 24-year period since 1992 to data from the government's Vital Statistics.

    The large number of deaths from cardiovascular illnesses is thought to be related to a high percentage of smokers, irregular diets due to financial distress, and side effects from the long-term use of medication, like a rise in blood sugar, among other factors. As for suicide, there is a possible connection to symptoms of schizophrenia such as hallucinations and delusions.

    "The results show that there is a gap between the physical health of those with mental illnesses and those without," says Kondo. "Support from doctors is crucial, and there is a need for doctors to grasp the physical health condition of their patients in order to encourage them to change their lifestyle habits or adjust the amount of medication prescribed accordingly."

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