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Reduced life expectancy due to mental and physical health problems must be tackled, academic warns

Mental health problems coupled with physical problems can significantly reduce a person's life expectancy, according to an academic
Seanín Graham

SUFFERING mental and physical illness can take 20 years off a person's life, according to a respected US academic who is visiting Northern Ireland today.

Dr Kelly Aschbrenner, from Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, will deliver a speech at Belfast Castle during Mental Health Awareness Week on how positive lifestyle changes can help people with serious mental health conditions.

Organised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists Northern Ireland and the University of Ulster, the Ivy League academic will discuss why illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder lead to shorter life expectancy than others.

Factors such as smoking and obesity coupled with mental ill health can also significantly shorten an individual's life.

But Dr Aschbrenner will argue that medical professionals who intervene with lifestyle changes such as health eating and exercise can help combat the problem.

She said: "While suicide explains some of the early mortality in people living with serious mental illness, it is now well established that physical diseases account for the overwhelming majority of premature deaths in this group.

"Cardiovascular diseases and diabetes represent the highest proportion of all natural causes of death in people with serious mental illness. Lifestyle interventions have been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease risk in upwards of 50 per cent of people with serious mental illness enrolled in randomized controlled trials.

"Unfortunately, few individuals with serious mental illness receive lifestyle interventions as part of routine care and sustained adoption of healthy behaviours is often limited following treatment."

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