Is Physical Health Overlooked in Mental Illness?
Node Smith, ND
The 18-year life expectancy gap between people with mental illness and the general population can only be bridged by protecting patients’ physical and mental health, according to a new study.
Bridging the gap: protecting patients’ physical and mental health
As part of a Lancet Psychiatry Commission into mental illness, University of Queensland researchers found patients’ physical health was often overlooked in pursuit of treating the mind.
UQ psychiatrist Associate Professor Dan Siskind said it was time to prioritize the physical health of such patients.
One in five people across the world live with mental illness
One in five people across the world live with mental illness and people with mental illness can die up to 18 years earlier than the general population. Contrary to popular belief, this is not because of suicide,” said Dan Siskind, Associate Professor, Psychiatrist,University of Queensland
It is from physical health issues associated with mental illness like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and lifestyle factors.
“This commission aimed to find out how great the life expectancy gap really is between those living with mental illness and the general population, discover the causative pathways for this gap, and look at practical strategies to narrow it.”
Conditions such as diabetes served as a stark example
Dr Siskind said conditions such as diabetes served as a stark example, with rates twice as high in those with mental illness compared to the general population.
“Getting people more physically active, improving nutrition and stopping smoking and substance abuse are all lifestyle factors that can be modified to improve health outcomes,” he said.
“We also looked at issues caused by medications and how these can be managed to mitigate side-effects such as obesity.”
Researchers hope the findings serve as a blueprint for doctors and healthcare professionals
The researchers hope the findings serve as a blueprint for doctors and healthcare professionals treating patients with mental illness. “It can be hard for people with mental illness to engage with primary healthcare providers, although they may still see their psychiatrist,” Dr Siskind said.
“We wanted to empower psychiatrists to be involved in the primary healthcare of their patients and engage the efforts of a multi-disciplined team, a team that includes not only psychologists and nurses but also nutritionists and exercise physiologists.
A ‘one-stop-shop’ can lead to improved health care outcomes
“A ‘one-stop-shop’, where patients can have their mental health and physical health needs met by a team of experts, can lead to improved health care outcomes.”
Dr Siskind said this multi-disciplined approach would help patients take back control of their well-being, and overcome a debilitating lack of motivation.
Motivation lost among people with mental illness
“Motivation is often lost among people with mental illness.” “If we can remove barriers to treatment, then we can start to make improvements across a broad range of physical conditions.
“This is about making everyone realize patients are whole people; it’s not just about eradicating mental health problems; we need to look after physical health too.”
- Firth, J. et al. (2019) The Lancet Psychiatry Commission: a blueprint for protecting physical health in people with mental illness. The Lancet Psychiatry. doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30132-4
Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Humboldt, Saskatchewan and associate editor and continuing education director for NDNR. His mission is serving relationships that support the process of transformation, and that ultimately lead to healthier people, businesses and communities. His primary therapeutic tools include counselling, homeopathy, diet and the use of cold water combined with exercise. Node considers health to be a reflection of the relationships a person or a business has with themselves, with God and with those around them. In order to cure disease and to heal, these relationships must be specifically considered. Node has worked intimately with many groups and organizations within the naturopathic profession, and helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic Revitalization (ANR), which works to promote and facilitate experiential education in vitalism.
Node Smith graduated from the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in 2017, and is currently licensed as a naturopathic physician in Oregon and working towards becoming licensed in Saskatchewan, Canada as well.